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June 25 2013


A Q&A with UX Mad 2013

When it comes to meeting with the community in-person, UX designers have plenty of events to choose from. One particularly unique option is UX Mad, bringing together speakers from all different walks of life. As it turns out, those walks of life were also prime candidates for an interview.

UX Mad is an annual, one-track, user-experience-design conference held every July in Madison, WI. Featuring a wide variety of speakers – from professional musicians to craft ice cream makers – it offers attendees an opportunity to meet and mingle with an otherwise disparate group of passionate creators.

In fact, the lineup reflects just how multidisciplinary experience design can be. Looking at their various backgrounds made me wonder: where do these speakers overlap? The answers, you’ll find, are surprising. Read on for wide-ranging insight into the creative minds of this year’s speakers and even a chance to win a ticket to the event!

How do you define user experience? How did you get into it?
Lea StewartLea Stewart: UX is a way to describe an ecosystem of products and services that consider a users’ needs, behaviors, and attitudes. Coming from Industrial Design, I don’t think of it as strictly digital. Instead of developing a next-generation training shoe, a UX designer might envision the “experience of running”.
MoldoverMoldover: To me, user experience represents a change in focus from simply getting something to work to making it as intuitive and enjoyable as possible.
Sergio NouvelSergio Nouvel: User experience is an evolution of design in general. Once you begin to care about users, you start to wonder which factors influence a good design beyond the mere look-and-feel. You start being a lot more aware of how easy the interface is to consume (which itself depends on how the content is structured, what it intends to do, etc.)
Can you give us a sneak peek of your talk at UX Mad?
Jenn DownsJenn Downs: Marketing automation is a powerful tool, but if used incorrectly it can reduce empathy for the user. Using technology to manage the relationship isn’t a replacement for human-to-human contact.
Jessica PetersonJessica Peterson: I’m taking part in a discussion panel of people chosen from distinct disciplines with a similar regard for the role of research in the design process. We want to demonstrate why the science of research and applied research is critical.
MoldoverMoldover: Human interface design for musical instruments presents unique challenges and vast new possibilities. The proliferation of low-cost rapid-prototyping tools has put the means of fabricating instruments within reach of any potential musician. I’ll go through the design process for some of my inventions.
Pamela PavliscakPamela Pavliscak: Data isn’t just a four-letter word. Numbers let us track improvements and setbacks over time, communicate important information at a glance, and tell us where we stand against competition.
Russ UngerRuss Unger: I’m giving a talk about Jim Henson and how the way he worked applies to what we can do in UX. It’s not one of those “X Things We Can Learn About UX From [a person];” it’s about the way he worked. It’s a little bit of history, observation, and fun. Oh! And Muppets–lots of Muppets! Probably a bunch of stuff you never knew about them, and Jim Henson!
What was the last creative project you did for fun? How do you deal with blocks?
Jesse ShternshusJesse Shternshus: I’ve been working with a designer to re-brand my company. I challenge myself by giving myself a couple minutes to think of as many terrible ideas as possible. Sometimes really good ideas come out of it.
Martin AtkinsMartin Atkins: I like speaking and work pretty hard at the payoff of that. The same goes for my books. There’s a difference between the information and the delivery of that information in a form that works. I try to have enough going on that when I am creatively blocked I can keep my energy output up while the wheels and cogs keep turning and (hopefully) magically produce the solution like some fairground wizard.
Pamela PavliscakPamela Pavliscak: Even though I observe and talk to strangers using technology all the time, I’m pretty awkward when it comes to mingling in large social groups. Recently, I had to go to an event by myself, so I decided random UX testing might at least give me some conversational gambit. A few takeaways: find a quiet corner, talk to people early in the evening, make friends with all the servers, and let people see some results.
Sergio NouvelSergio Nouvel: How do I deal with creative blocks? I don’t. I don’t regard hitting the point of frustration as a “block”. I see it as a necessary step. I never consider myself blocked, so it helps a lot with the feeling of being blocked.
What does mobile mean to user-centered designers?
Andrew MaierAndrew Maier: Mobile means we can no longer depend upon a certain context in which people will use things (not that we ever really could). As a consequence, we have to make our solutions more robust – to consider alternative ways of presenting information and affording functionality.
Golli HashemianGolli Hashemian: Honestly, it annoys me that everyone focuses so much on mobile as a separate topic of user experience. From a high level, designing for mobile isn’t a separate process – it’s an evolution of user-centered design. We study how our customers use our product and design accordingly, taking context into account as well.
Sergio NouvelSergio Nouvel: Mobile has always been with us simply because we are mobile beings (unlike a tree). Mobile isn’t new: think of a watch as a mobile analog device. Mobile is a context. Devices will keep changing, and what really matters is not the resolution or the touch screen, but the context – the unpredictability of what’s surrounding a user, what state of mind they’re in, or what else they’re trying to do. The first step is admitting our inability to cover absolutely every scenario.
What disciplines within user-centered design excite you? Why?
Andrew MaierAndrew Maier: Civic design & social entrepreneurship. They’re areas that absolutely need our attention (as designers) because they have the most power to affect people on a day-to-day basis. Democracy is interactive by design. Nowadays, we’ve lost that feeling of empowerment.
Jessica PetersonJessica Peterson: Nothing beats first-hand research. Making sure we understand what the users are thinking and what their needs are is just as important as making sure the interface is well-designed, the colors and proportions and pleasing, and the features are usable.
Lea StewartLea Stewart: My background is in industrial design, so that’s where my passion lies. I have an internal struggle with creating more “stuff” that may someday be discarded. I focus on sustainability and to ensure that whatever I design is truly needed and wanted by users instead of heading for the landfill.
MoldoverMoldover: Hardware. It’s refreshing to make physical objects when we spend so much time manipulating digital “things.”

That’s all, folks! A big thank you to all of this year’s speakers for taking the time to answer our questions. Everyone listed above (and more!) will be in Madison this July 12-13, so come on out, meet them, have a good time, and eat some cheese!

Welcome to Wisconsin

Will we see you there? UX Mad is just a few weeks away. If you haven’t bought your ticket yet but you’re itching to go (especially after such riveting responses), you’re in luck: we’re giving one away.

To enter, let us know who you’re most excited to meet and why in the comments below. Be sure to follow @uxbooth, and to leave your Twitter handle with your comment so we can get in touch with you for your freebie. Entries must be in by midnight (PST) June 27th. We know it’s tight, but we want to give the lucky winner the time to arrange travel and lodging, as we can’t provide those. Good luck!

The post A Q&A with UX Mad 2013 appeared first on UX Booth.

June 04 2013


Design in Service: Crafting the Citizen Experience

Many agree that a combination of factors – a demand for better user experience, the rise of ubiquitous technologies and more readily accessible datasets – present the conditions necessary for a more enjoyable life as a citizen of our country. But necessity is just the mother of invention; it takes hard work to get there. To narrow the gap between today’s promises and tomorrow’s opportunities, designers are increasingly intent on improving what’s known as the citizen experience.

The trends aren’t difficult to see. Co-authors Joseph Pine and James Gilmore pointed out eons ago in the web world – back in 1998 – that we live an experience economy. Simply put, people are drawn to products and services that are more considerate of their experience. Additionally, by now, designers are well acquainted with the idea of mobile, ubiquitous computing. It’s hard not to be. It’s the subject of books, blogs, even whole conferences.

One consequence of these trends is data. Lots of it., a site created and maintained by the Obama administration’s Open Government Initiative, houses over 73,000 sets of the stuff. The sheer quantity available begs the question: what can designers do? The (short-term) answer is visualizations. With them, designers turn otherwise confusing arrays of numbers into useful information.

Map-based visualizations seem a relatively humble start, yet the examples appearing on sites such as and readily manifest the power of mere juxtaposition.

Visualizations are only a small part of the story, though. What’s more valuable than the insights created by way of visualizations and others information technologies like them are the storytelling opportunities that these neo-journalism tools afford. By piecing together the narratives behind collective action, locally-minded people – citizens – can tell more cohesive stories about their communities and plan for change. In essence, today’s technological landscape provides a compelling opportunity for designers to affect a positive change across entire municipalities.

The citizen experience

After years of working in the private sector, Jess McMullin had an epiphany. At two in the morning – the Saturday before Christmas, 2009 – he made the not-too-hasty decision to leave the consultancy he had founded six years prior. Jess left his own company to work in the public sector because, in his words:

I’ve found public-sector work to be infinitely more meaningful than private-sector work. I guess that’s because, as an individual, I actually have faith and confidence in the government as a solution to societal problems.

Individually, we tend not to act in a way that’s attuned to our collective needs. The free market led us to the housing crisis and situations like Enron. Unregulated, it’s a sociopath. Government provides a solution to the tragedy of the commons.

Jess Mcmullin

Many of the designers with whom I spoke while researching this piece had a similar epiphany: the “tragedy of the commons” becoming too acute, and projects focused on the citizen experience appearing refreshingly greenfield by comparison. It led user researcher Cyd Harrell to more prominently introduce the term to the community in her article on UX Magazine titled “The Citizen Experience Needs Us: Why UX practitioners should join the Government 2.0 movement.” She says:

Lately, I’ve started thinking that our view of the human as a “user” is incomplete. Yes, interacting with interfaces does come down to using technology, but just as “customer” is a more comprehensive term in the commercial realm, we need another term to describe other important relationships in people’s lives.

Anyone applying for a business license or a building permit, paying taxes, looking up public records, or requesting benefits is participating in an interaction where they are something more than a user. These relationships aren’t exactly voluntary the way commercial relationships are, but at the same time, the public nature of these services makes the user a co-owner in a way that customers typically are not.

Most citizen experiences don’t properly reflect this reality although they should, and it’s interesting to think about how they’d be different if they did.

Cyd Harrell

In other words, the citizen experience is a direct result of the platform provided by a municipality. While its opportunities aren’t as readily apparent, they’re no less important to would-be civic designers.

The civic design spectrum

The gap between today’s user-centered designers and tomorrow’s civic designers is closing, albeit slowly. That’s partially because citizen experience is a relatively nascent idea (to us), and partially because the resources available to designers are few and far between. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Some resources do exist, though: Jess McMullin, mentioned above, wrote a guide called Getting into Government Consulting detailing his lessons from the trenches; researchers Nate Bolt and Tony Tulathimutte wrote an account of their work with Stanford University, helping get the word out about Swine Flu; and designers Elizabeth Buie & Dianne Murray co-edited a book called Usability in Government Systems, which acts as a good primer.

Dana Chisnell’s Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent were funded through Kickstarter and designed by Oxide Design Co.

Other designers have simply jumped in head first, making a name for themselves by taking part in what author Jon Kolko calls social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship works just like its conventional counterpart except that social entrepreneurs seek to solve humanitarian problems rather than sell products. Dana Chisnell’s Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent and Laura Amico’s Homicide Watch serve as good examples, in addition to joint-ventures such as Random Hacks of Kindness (sponsored by Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, NASA, and the World Bank).

What’s clear is that civic design projects run the gamut – some are visualizations, some are physical objects, and some are quasi-public services. Is there any consensus as to what citizens actually want from the government of the future? This summary, accompanying an Accenture study from 2012, suggests an answer:

The majority of people say they would use digital services if offered by government, especially for routine transactions. And over half want to conduct all their government business digitally in the future. The biggest challenge for government is not catching up with the private sector—it’s giving digital citizens what they want while using digital channels to improve public value.

Laying aside the ambiguity of “public value” for a moment, it seems sensible to conclude that the primary way to increase that value would be to give each citizen a voice, helping them take part in their own democracy. San Francisco’s online service center, @SF311, does just this.

As Cyd explains (in the same article mentioned earlier):

One day last summer, driving through Golden Gate Park on one of our notoriously freezing and foggy June mornings, I noticed sprinklers in full spray all along a major road, wasting large quantities of water. Having recently heard about the service, I tweeted @SF311, and within 45 minutes I had a helpful response assuring me that it would be checked out. The next day when I drove the same route, the sprinklers were off.

Cyd Harrell

Tools such as SF311 are equal parts fascinating and vexing. While one the one hand they liberate – empowering citizens – on the other hand they also represent of an entire class of products and services that are often unheard of until after they’re built.

Better government for everyone

Anyone who’s interacted with an office of their local government knows that the public sector works as best as it can to serve the needs of its constituents. Organizations frequently adopt and adapt solutions along the way which inevitably introduces inefficiencies. Inefficiency, however, is something for which user-centered design is well suited. It’s just rarely the case that these two parties meet in the middle, despite the fact that they have so much to gain from one another.

This disconnect prompted Jennifer Pahlka – a former game-industry leader turned social entrepreneur – to found a civic-design organization called Code for America. Code for America is best described by way of analogy, drawing comparisons to both Teach for America and Peace Core (but for geeks). At its heart, the organization facilitates is a year-long fellowship program, recruiting designers and developers to scope and solve public-sector problems in collaboration with local governments.

In a nutshell:

  1. Designers and developers apply from all over the country,
  2. Next, a handful are chosen to participate in the San Francisco-based program,
  3. Finally, states sponsor a group of fellows to come onsite and collaboratively solve government problems in a user-centered way.

Participation in the program is as much a learning opportunity as it is a gesture to shared future of our nation. The following video provides insight into one of the projects that came out of last year’s program:

Fellows from Code for America describe their latest collaboration with a city government, a website built for Honolulu’s City Hall.

Readers interested in transitioning into the the civic design space are highly encouraged to apply for the 2014 fellowship.

What tomorrow feels like

The most fascinating thing about citizen experience design is that it’s taken so long to come to the fore. The problem space begins with a question that’s pertinent to all of us: what’s it like to be a resident of a town or city? And how could that be better? Living somewhere is “an experience” most do not think of “choosing;” our parents made that decision for us. But as we grow up we do have a choice: do we keep things as they are or do we choose to make our future government better than we found it?

The post Design in Service: Crafting the Citizen Experience appeared first on UX Booth.

August 14 2012


Journey to The Heart of UX Design: Debunking Myths

What makes a truly great car? Beauty? If that were the case, then every millionaire in the world would drive a gaudy, two-hundred-thousand dollar sports car. While they are often undeniably beautiful, many sports cars leave much to be desired: they lack storage; they are bad for the environment; they are uneconomical… the list goes on and on.

On the flip side, there are some remarkably reliable cars that can get a person from here to there for a very reasonable amount of money. But how many people want to show up at a business meeting in a Ford Focus?

Many of the world’s most successful car companies share something in common: they don’t just settle for making great cars; they offer something more. BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen sell an experience – a vision of driving. As an owner, they make you feel as though you’re part of something larger.

Do you remember Volkswagon’s Fahrvergnügen campaign?

The road less travelled

Fahrvergnügen, directly translated, means driving pleasure. This is what Volkswagen drivers want: something beyond the “everyday” experience of getting to and from work; something better. At the end of the day that’s what good UX design is all about: giving people a product or service that amplifies (or transcends) their experience.

It sounds simple but, along the way, we often forget. People often confuse “good design” with “good looks” and while looks are certainly part of it, actual design is more than just skin deep. Recently deceased Apple CEO and user experience genius Steve Jobs summed this up perfectly when he said: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Good design doesn’t showcase a company’s vision so much as it enables that company’s users to tell a story. User experience design, then, encompasses everything from the initial idea to the last pixel on a page. It is about performance and efficiency, intellect and emotion. It is about solving problems and finding the optimal way to affect users with a sense of purpose.

Assuming you have a great designer – a true expert who understands form, functionality, and emotion – it’s easy enough for them to offer a relevant experience… but is it exceptional?

The danger zone

Yet another common misconception regarding design is that any designer will be fine for basic user testing. While the expert designer’s review can certainly be useful in finding obvious usability issues, it is never a substitute for good, wholesome user testing.

It’s probably apparent by now that there are many misconceptions about what constitutes good user experience design. Talking about it is easy, but defining it is difficult. The best way to avoid (almost all) of the common traps is to never forget that good design centers around serving content – be that a message or an idea.

If you are interested in learning more there are plenty of great resources:

  • First and foremost, you’re reading this blog which is an incredible source of information and always shedding new light on the world of UX and many of the obstacles we have to overcome as a young and highly misunderstood field.
  • Box and Arrows features podcasts, cutting edge articles, and a job listing board.
  • What more, UX myths helps dispel many of misconceptions about design and user experience in general.

Regardless of how you choose to look at it, we are in the midst of a user experience boom. There’s information and misinformation around every corner. Hopefully, though, armed with this knowledge and a few good resources, you can begin to differentiate for yourself.

To theyself, be true

User experience design enables us to effect a sense of purpose. It facilitates a conversation between the audience, the designer, and the object being designed. To that end, start by learning what your users really want. Then use design to exceed it: form and function, intellect and emotion. It is, as cheesy as it sounds, not only about creating a great product but also delivering something more: a real, exceptional experience.

The post Journey to The Heart of UX Design: Debunking Myths appeared first on UX Booth.

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