I was speaking to an entrepreneur the other day when he mentioned he was looking for a “creative director with UX skills.” He added,”…someone whose aesthetic I really like.” I responded ,”Good luck.”
Every person grows up thinking they are unique and special. Your mother told you that and, to this day, you believe it. The customers coming to your web site are no different. They each come expecting you to deliver an experience that is custom-tailored to their exact needs and desires. They want you to remember them, what they did, what they like/dislike and what they will likely do in the immediate future. Meet these demands and your product (website, et al) is the shit! Meet it not (sorry for the pseudo-Braveheart riff) and your site is shite (which is the opposite of “the shit!”).
There is no possible way you could deliver each of your customers a generic experience that would meet their expectations – they believe. But they’re wrong. With enough traffic through your application, patterns emerge. These patterns become evident through regular, vigilant review and analysis of your usage analytics (aka “the data”). Very quickly you start to see which users are performing specific actions and the correlations between those users. Add in a healthy dose of user profiling and you start to fill out your “typical” customers. Augment your findings with some qualitative research (yep, talk to your customers) to understand their motivations and very quickly you’ve moved away from individual snowflakes into similar “piles” snow – also known as personas.
I once sat next to a newly-diagnosed MS patient while walking him through an online description of the progression of that disease. It was devastating.
Another time I interviewed a long-suffering Psoriasis patient about her frustration with the lack of progress on treatment. It was infuriating.
I once sat next to a job seeker who had been unemployed for 2 weeks. He was invincible. And so was I.
Yet another time I sat next to a jobseeker who was unemployed for 6 months. He was desperate for communication – of any kind. So we talked.
Empathy is the true comprehension of what our customers, visitors and users feel when they reach out for our service. Without it, we’re designing blind.
Get out of your cube, office or co-working space. Go meet your customers. Ask them how they’re feeling. Understand them and they’ll know it. You’ll find them in your products and services.
I totally wasn’t. And the image below proves it:
I received this illustrious award after coining the phrase “rogue developer” while on the AOL Explorer project (a surprisingly successful browser AOL launched in the early-mid 00’s). To me, a rogue developer was a software engineer who came up with and implemented their own feature or, at the very least, presented a prototype to the team for consideration.
As the Lead UI Designer on the project, this infuriated me at the time. I took great pride (not to mention time and pain-staking detail) in the thoroughness of my designs and, equally as important, my spec documents. They were pixel perfect and they were 100% correct and rigid. No deviations or the project would slip!
It’s worth mentioning that AOL in the early-mid 00’s was a waterfall shop. Very very waterfall. So waterfall in fact, they should’ve named our conference rooms Niagara and Iguazu. I was only 5 or 6 years into my career and waterfall was all I knew so I followed process. It was no surprise then that when “rogue development” took place it drew my ire.
How could this developer think he knows what customers want? What makes him think he can design an interface? That was MY job and I’ll be damned if someone else took that responsibility away from me.
None of these, of course, were valid concerns. Reading that award now, I am actually proud to have received it. I inspired “undocumented creativity.” 2010 Jeff is very proud of 2004 Jeff for doing that — even if 2004 Jeff didn’t like it very much at the time. I’ve come around to seeing the benefits of working closely with developers (and product mangers, and QA, and marketing et al) on concepting and developing product ideas. Together we create better finished products.
I look forward to inspiring a lot more undocumented creativity in my career.
P.S. – Interesting side note: The junior product manager on the AOL Explorer project was Tim O’Shaughnessy who is now the CEO and co-founder of a little company you may have heard of – Living Social. Nice.
I just returned from a week in hot, sweaty and rainy Orlando, FL where I spent the bulk of my time at the Agile 2010 conference. It was my first time at such a specialized, non-design conference and I was doubly excited since I also presented. I went down with many questions — how are other organizations dealing with transitions into Agile? Is Design and User Experience even a consideration? What challenges and ultimately what solutions are people finding that work well for their teams?
I came down to Florida with those questions. I went home with them too. To be fair, I did get a slew of new tactics to try but the general vibe is that many folks are struggling with Agile — especially when trying to incorporate a design team (of any size, skillset or configuration). I focused my attention on sessions that dealt with the core problems with this integration as I see them — personalities and planning.
I found Lisamarie Babik‘s session on Coaching Introverts interesting and useful as it focused on pulling the quieter members of the team into the process more. I also spent time in Jean Tabaka‘s Visioning session. While it was a bit fluffy for my tastes it did give me some good ideas on how to focus the team on the things they want to achieve and not on the negative perceptions of an Agile design environment.
Jeff Patton and Desiree Sy — both UX/Agile legends at this point — provided strong tactical sessions on how to plan product design activities into the sprint timeframes. I found those sessions valuable and both individuals extremely friendly and forthcoming for conversation and differing opinions (Jeff I’d met once before but this is my first time meeting Desiree in person).
My presentation on integrating UX and Agile is embedded below. I feel like it struck a nerve with the folks who attended as it dealt directly with the failures we experienced at TheLadders as we’ve been integrating UX into Agile. But, more interestingly than that, it showed that even when good ideas fail, you can iterate, tweak and try them again — which is the essence of being agile.