Teacher Response to Module #2: You’re Getting It

Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard. Check there for individual feedback as well.

Key learning from this module

Persona = User as character in a story called “design process”

UX is iterative

I say I have been doing UX for about 8 years, but I’ve been a researcher far longer than that. UX simply gave me a name for the collection of interests I had: usability, communication, content strategy, etc. I had always been a researcher interested in messy, complex problems with no simple solution.

When I found UX, I simply found a community of people who were interested in similar problems. At its core, UX people are people who realize that shortcuts and simple solutions rarely provide maximum benefits to clients and users.

There is no right way to do UX, but there are many wrong ways

At the same time, there are a lot of UX hucksters out there selling pretty, but unusable designs to unsuspecting folks. As I mentioned in my other rant about these types of people, they usually come from graphic design or web design. They are used to there being a simple solution to problems, in other words: make something that looks a certain way.

This is not to bash graphic designers and web designers. We all need them. They are the people who make all the things we use on the Internet. They are also sometimes dead wrong about what the best thing for users is.

Because UX is tied to those pesky, non-sensical beings called “users” it will always partially be at odds with other professions. That’s your job as a UXer: to explain to other kinds of designers why the simplest solution is not always the best one. To explain to clients why throwing up a Wix site that has no classification scheme for information is not going to get them more business.

We are the muddiers of the design waters. And I can guarantee: every usable, brilliant design that users love and find useful has someone who gets UX behind it. Every. Single. One.

Info and Content Is Still Made By Humans (For Now): Teacher Response to Homework #3

Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard.

Content strategy and info architecture are misunderstood… and very profitable

Think about it: the Web is still primarily textual information. It needs to be organized, edited, channelled, delivered. This is very hard work that few people are suited for. How much bad, poorly organized content do you experience online on a daily basis? How much of it is useful to you? How much of it is what you were looking for when you searched for it or clicked on its headline?

This is a golden age for writers, in other words: people who understand written content and its importance for users of all kinds. There’s a reason that an entire institute was recently formed on this subject: http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/. Even marketers now have to be good writers.

This is also good news for us, the humanities majors! We were all born and raised on the written word. Designers are a dime a dozen nowadays, largely because of the prevalence of open source Content Management Systems like WordPress (which currently accounts for a whopping 22% of all registered web domains). These technologies are making it increasingly hard to sell your ability simply to make one website. Why pay someone to do that, when you can buy an entire CMS that allows you to make unlimited websites… for nothing?

Being a “web designer” now means being a developer which is something else entirely. Gone are the days when you could get by knowing HTML and CSS. Now you need to be a programmer. You have to master boolean logic, which, let me tell you: is tough.

But no one has yet created a content engine capable of replacing human writers. They’ve tried, but failed. Which is probably why fields like technical communication, UX, and content strategy are set to grow by leaps and bounds over the next decade or so. The needs for humanities-style thinking isn’t going away, despite what every pundit who has access to a microphone is saying. We just don’t understand where to send our graduates for jobs or what to call our majors (though TPC is a pretty good name ;-).

Teacher Response to Module #1: Planning, Schmanning

Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard, as per the norm. You also receive individualized feedback on modules, however, so be sure to check for that.

Overall: I thought these were stronger than the last time I taught this class, probably because of my 11th hour intervention with the example project. It looks like the project is going to fall through (which happens sometimes), but that’s actually good for future students, because now I can definitely use it as an example, and without all the scary copyright stuff!

Key learning from this module

UX Project =

client goals +

problem with application +

benchmarks for solving problem +

translation of all this into normal human speak for client

Hint: planning is for clients and stakeholders 😉

No one has ever given me formal feedback on this class that Module 1 feel like a bait a switch: you go to all the trouble to create an awesome-sounding UX project, and then I just make you go through the modules anyway. People have told me, however, that they feel unclear at Module 1 what they’re supposed to accomplish by the end of the class. My response: welcome to the club ;-).

The truth is, Module 1 is about learning to communicate a UX project to someone else, because that’s what UX designers do. They never work in isolation. And most of the people they work with (clients, developers, product managers, etc.) have no idea what UX is, not really.

So: the planning is really for everyone else. As a UX person, you should know what you’re doing and be thinking ahead. That’s a given. But, like other forms of communication, you can’t assume anyone else is in your head. That’s why you have to let them in on the process.

At the same time, trying to plan a UX project is kind of like trying to plan for the weather: you have a rough idea what conditions are going to be like, but they could change at a moment’s notice. And that can cause a real struggle with clients. You can’t tell them “well, we’re going to learn some stuff, which will teach us some other stuff, and so on and then after about 10 iterations we’ll have some idea…” Clients want solutions, and they want them fast. They want to see how the whole process will solve their problem, not add new complication.

Teacher Response to Homework #2: Building a UX Toolkit and Helping Clients

Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard, as always.

What’s in a UX toolkit? Everything you’ve ever done.

Buley uses the metaphor of the toolkit to describe a collection of UX methods, and I think it’s a good one, though it can be confused with technologies UXers use (like TryMyUI and UXPin). Essentially, though, UX designers don’t have a term for “everything we can do,” so I think UX toolkit is the best term for this I’ve seen. The UX toolkit you deploy in this project should be whatever methods you need to utilize to meet the needs of these human beings and their attendant technological requirements. Your UX toolkit will shift and grow from project to project, in other words, and from client to client. It will never be exactly the same, but you should have some sense of how each project will take shape and what people, methods, and technologies you will need for each project.

Here’s my toolkit (so you have a real, live example)

After a few years of experience, your UX toolkit will morph around the projects you’ve completed: http://guiseppegetto.com/ux-consulting/. So, you’ll see I really live in three different worlds as a consultant:

  • Usability
  • Content strategy
  • Digital marketing

Why those three areas? Because that’s what people have historically paid me money to do ;-). UX is a business-related field. Even if you’re working for a non-profit, you’re trying to help that non-profit reach organizational goals through digital means. Again: your toolkit is just the collection of methods you have historically used to do so.

This doesn’t mean you can know everything: Regarding the myth of the “Design Unicorn”

The ultra-flexible, project-based, and market-driven nature of the field of UX has led many hiring managers to start looking for “Design Unicorns,” or individuals who can do everything UX-related for an organization. When I first got on the UX bandwagon about 5 years ago, I was very pro-unicorn, but the more actual UX work I do, the more ridiculous I think it is.

As the author of the above-linked article states: I have never met anyone who can do all parts of UX equally well. This doesn’t mean that these individuals don’t exist, but: geniuses also exist–that doesn’t mean you’re ever going to meet one. The Design Unicorn mythology is dangerous as UX seeks to establish itself as a profession of equal weight to older job descriptions like technical writers, developers, and graphic designers. A lot of hiring managers just want to hire someone who can write code, write language, design pretty things, and: oh, hey, can you also do all that in line with what users want?

As one thought leader recently put it: “UX without users is not UX,” meaning UX professionals should be primarily defined by their ability to design things in a user-centered manner. All other skills should be secondary to that primary focus.

 

Final Steps for Module #1

When Revising Consider the Following

Be Sure to Include Inputs and Outputs

It’s important in a project plan to indicate what is going into it and what is going out of it.

  • The inputs include: data, activities, and resources
  • The outputs include: data and deliverables

So, in other words, consider what this team has done:

It’s very clear from this activity what’s going into and it and what’s coming out. Be sure to include this level of detail in your project plan.

Orient Your Client With an Executive Summary

Besides your formal plan, you also want a brief 2-3 paragraph Executive Summary that orients your reader (the client) to the activities you’ll be doing. Also draw on your comparative assessment to indicate what problems you see to address and how you will address these problems through the activities you will complete.

Here’s an example from one of my own UX consulting projects:

[COMPANY NAME] has the truly innovative goal of helping your clients foster cultures of innovation. To make this innovation sustainable, you’re looking to develop applications that will extend the reach of your consulting efforts beyond human-to-human contact. You want these applications to encourage collaboration while not squelching innovation. Right now you are getting ready to launch a new module for an existing application, [PRODUCT NAME], that will help employees in large companies connect with each other autonomously.

This [SPECIFIC FEATURE] for [PRODUCT NAME] needs to tap into employees’ intrinsic motivations for connecting with others, but also needs to provide fun, extrinsic reward systems that match up with these motivations. Now you need a UX Toolkit you can deliver to a developer that will successfully communicate the user flows, personas, and stylistic considerations important to this new feature set.

We can help you with that.

To Complete the Module

7) 1/30/17 by Midnight ET >>

Revise all your documents and hand them in. The point of receiving feedback from your peers, and also from myself, is to help you improve your writing. This process will be negated if the draft you submit to the course website is the same as the draft you hand in as your final. Revise, revise, revise.

  • An individual Cover Letter (including how you contributed to your team’s documents) and copies of your team’s Project Plan and Comparative Assessment are due to Blackboard by Midnight ET

Teams for the Semester

Team 1: The Moody UXers

Project Manager: Catheryn
Researcher/Content Specialist: Charles
Editor/Reviewer: Brittany
Researcher/Content Specialist: Stephanie

Team 2: The Robbie Barons

Project Manager: Robbie
Editor/Reviewer: Brandi
Researcher/Content Specialist: Richard

Team 3: These Are Not The Baldwins You’re Looking For

Project Manager: Katie
Researcher: Maizul
Editors: Omar, Danielle

Teacher Response to Homework #1: UX – It Ain’t Just Usability No More

Business Keeping

Grades will always be posted to Blackboard. Check for them there.

The Growing Field of User Experience

The reason I always assign Leah Buley’s book in this class is that it touches on so many of the different parts of this weird field called user experience. To quote one of you:

User experience refers to the what, when, why, where, and how someone uses a product, as well as who that person is. It is everything that affects a user’s experience with a product.

A lot of folks ask me: why don’t you just say “usability.” And I respond with this infographic (also available on the cover letters page):

An infographic on technology, business, and design and how they overlap to form UX or user experience

 

As this infographic depicts, usability is now just one small, but important, part of the UX field, a field which encompasses a broad array of skills, proficiencies, attitudes, and considerations, more than any one person can wield. UX professionals work in close collaboration with developers (meaning people who deal mostly with code), writers, graphic designers, marketers, and business managers. Often, they have one or more of these skill sets themselves.

The UX Toolkit

At the center, however, is the user and their needs:

  • User advocacy: One of the most important roles of UX professionals is that of the user advocate. The best way to encapsulate this role is that users are also clients or customers. They are people who come to a web or mobile application for something. Sometimes what they come for is free, sometimes it costs money. If they can’t find what they’re looking for, however, they’ll go somewhere else, and the organization behind the application will lose revenue, resources, and engagement.
  • Usability testing: We’ll do a whole module on this, but essentially usability testing is one of the main methods for detecting how efficient, memorable, and learnable an application is. That’s all it can really tell you, however. It can’t tell you qualitative things like how users feel about the application or what they like best about it.
  • User research: A broader methodology usually grounded in contextual inquiry, user research involves more qualitative interactions with users, such as interviewing them, conducting focus groups with them, and even observing them in their home or office.
  • User stories: The goal of user research is always to get stories, which are as valuable as results of usability tests, if not more. Stories tell you about the person behind the user. They tell you about the context they are coming from and what their goals are.
  • Validity: In order for an application to be successful, it needs to validate the needs of its users, meaning cater to them.
  • Reliability: As a rule, applications have many different types of users, meaning that UX professionals also have to make sure that the application is catering to the needs of a diverse array of individuals.
  • Ensuring products are user-driven: All of this is a recursive process. Products that don’t keep these goals in mind all the time lose money. I, and anyone deeply trained in UX, encounter applications every day that are unusable or not built for every user type. The cost of bad UX is also increasing as the economy becomes increasingly digital, and now based on smart devices like smartphones and even homes that provide tailored experiences. This means that products of the future will have to be increasingly user-driven to satisfy more and more discerning customers who have more and more products to choose from.

Introduction to the Course

Welcome to ENGL 7766: User Experience Design

Greetings!

I’m very excited to be offering this course for the third time at ECU.

A Bit About Me

I have been working in collaboration with folks in the technology sector, mostly as a consultant, for about eight years now. I have taught courses in technical communication and related topics at the college level for around 15 years. I also have my Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing from Michigan State University. I have been researching and practicing UX for about five years.

I’m stoked to share some of the insights I’ve gleaned during these professional experiences with all of you.

How This Class Works

In the interests of helping you acclimate to my style of online teaching, here are some highlights of this course website, and thus the course itself, that you’ll want to keep an eye on:

Deadlines

I’m a big fan of deadlines, small and large, and so I tend to scaffold assignments pretty tightly.

  • The best place to check for deadlines is always the schedule page, from which you can view the schedule for each course module, or learning unit, as it’s posted. All deadlines for each module can also be found within the module itself.
  • Your first deadline is 1/11/18, when Homework #1 is due by midnight ET.

Technologies

As this is an online course, and an online design course no less, it is obviously going to be technology-driven. In this regard, there are four main technologies to concern yourself with: WordPress, UserTesting, UXPin, and Blackboard.

  • WordPress is the Content Management System that runs our course website. If you ever have problems with it, I invite you to first be good technological problem-solvers and take a look at WordPress’s excellent documentation, both within the CMS itself and on their website.
  • I’ll assume you’re all familiar with Blackboard and so won’t go into that one, except to say that all you’ll be using it for is turning in assignments and downloading readings.
  • You’re probably completely unfamiliar with UserTesting and UXPin, however. Don’t worry: you’ll be able to learn it as you go, and you’ll receive more detailed instructions for interacting with these when you need them.

Interactions

I like to think of teaching as a series of interactions during which knowledge is made. The main interactions of this course are: homework assignments, modules, and discussion on the course website.

  • Homework assignments and their due dates can be found via the schedule page, under the schedule specific to each module. So, for instance, if you go to the schedule for module #1, you will see that homework #1 is due to Blackboard by Tuesday, 1/16/18 at Midnight ET. Homework assignments will always be the first thing due when we start a new module.
  • Modules are larger assignments that are due every 3 weeks or so. You can see modules as they’re posted on the modules page, but like everything else, they’re included in the main schedule.
  • Finally, you are encouraged to post stuff (questions, comments, interesting news articles, whatever) to the course website that you think your peers would like to hear about, and every homework assignment after the first one will require you to do so. That way we have a nice active online community with interesting content constantly being posted.

Reaching Me

All my contact info is available on the syllabus page, which of course you should read through thoroughly in case you have any questions or concerns about any course policies (you’ll be prompted to do this for homework #1).

  • I’m pretty much always available via email and phone during normal business hours (M-F 9-5). I am slower to respond on weekends, but still check my email.
  • I have virtual office hours listed in the syllabus when you can talk to me via Skype or Google hangout.
  • I have obviously also worked hard to build a robust course website with a lot of information and interactivity, so please do read through it before asking me simple questions like “when is such-and-such due” or “how do I access X?” If you can’t figure out how to do something or are struggling in any way, the best way to reach me is to post a comment on the course website itself. I will receive an email every time you post something to the website, so it will be the equivalent of emailing me, and often another student will beat me to the punch with an answer to your question. Most importantly: other people who have that same question will see it and the answer that gets posted, saving us all a lot of lead time.

Working Hard

If you aren’t intimidated by the massive course website or omnibus introductory post, I should just mention that I teach a tough class. I also provide a lot of support, however, so if you’re willing to work hard, ask questions, and engage with the material, you should be fine. If you are NOT fine, reaching out to myself and your peers early and often is always the best response. If you are feeling lost in the course, which can often happen when working in online learning environments, touching base with another human being can help ground you and get you back on track. I have high expectations for students, particularly graduate students, but I don’t want anyone struggling needlessly. That’s what the assignments are for ;-).

Teacher Response to Homework #4: Prototypes Are Not the Only Answer

Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard.

Prototypes are often treated like “the answer” to UX problems

So, in my humble opinion, there is a bias towards prototyping too early in a lot of the rank-and-file UX design community, AKA the people doing the majority of the work. These folks work insanely hard and are often put in very untenable positions: they have to do “design sprints” that are often as short as two weeks in length and that are supposed to produce high-fidelity prototypes.

Essentially, UX in a lot of organizations looks like this:

  • Backend Developer: Does the heavy-lifting of programming an applications basic interactions
  • Frontend Developer: Does the heavy-lifting of designing a program’s interface
  • Graphic Designer: Makes non-programmable elements like logos, fonts, icons, etc.
  • Additional Developer or Designer who says they know about UX, but who is really just good at prototyping

Of course, at this point in the process of this class, I hope you can see the problem with this arrangement. Just because someone can make something that looks really nice, and convinces other developers it solves problems, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for users. In fact: often the thing that looks the best to developers is the worst thing for users.

User insights really are the answer

The fact that prototypes are often used to stand in for interactions with real, live users is symptomatic of the current state of web applications. There’s a reason why 97% of websites fail at usability. If everyone was talking to a UX person, consulting with them, etc., that number would be a lot lower.

They aren’t.

Here are some of the excuses I’ve heard from real, live people working as UX designers working in major, fortune 500 companies:

  • “I don’t have time to do usability testing.”
  • “I have a boss, just like everyone else, and they have a bottom line.”
  • “We usually come up with a prototype the day before we have to launch it, so I literally have one afternoon to interact with users before the meeting.”

This is not to beat up on these folks. They are not the problem. They are part of the problem, certainly, but they are really not the problem.

The executives of companies are the problem. When you have a guaranteed audience of 50,000 users, it’s hard to justify conducting time-consuming, expensive usability testing and user research. This is at the heart of the UX conundrum: in order to solve UX problems the right way, you have to invest money and time, and you have to engage in activities not typically valued by corporate culture: qualitative research, research that doesn’t immediately create an ROI (although the cost of not having a good UX is estimated to be very high), product design that is a remove away from what the final product will look like, etc.

It’s understandable, given this culture, that solid UX research often gets short shrift. This also doesn’t mean that graphic designers and web developers can be effective at UX, however. It doesn’t mean none of them can. It means UX is a skill set all its own and needs to be treated as such.