Thursday, April 15, 2010

UX Sense...

Since so many UX posts still focus on "what is UX" or "why is UX" and the plethora of posts are starting to cement a broader awareness and general understanding of UX craft, I wanted to help out and lend my take on things. Maybe its just a baseline for this blog, or perhaps it will help someone starting out.

User Experience put simply makes things easier, better and more valuable for the end user. Often motivated by simply enabling the accomplishment of goals (the light is green, you can go now) a user experience professional should be the best and most vocal user advocate on the team, carefully balancing business goals, technical / development limitations and organizational requirements to ultimately support this new and pure focus on the user.

Following some semblance of a process and path iteratively, UX teams will build knowledge, manifest options and refine implementations together with all the other stakeholders and craftspeople in the mix. In general these steps towards a well lit path are as follows:
  1. Conduct user research to understand the requirements, painpoints, ethnography and psychology of the end user. You may already have a raft of input and usability drivers based on previous versions of the project or what other people are doing in similar situations. For example, if you are working for a bank, learn from your own banking experience or perhaps conversations with family and friends about how their experiences are good, bad or ugly or even awesome. These emotional insights can be golden.
  2. Identify aspects of the driving business strategy that can be articulated to clearly define user profiles, scenarios, and their importance to other stakeholders in order to capture all the necessary requirements and validate them.
  3. Seek to understand, imagine and document the various outcomes, starting with users themselves, but also with appropriate evaluation and inputs to project managers to estimate, the developers to build, marketing teams to educate and communicate, partners to evangelize, sales to sell, support teams to help out, etc...this may take the form of wireframes, documents, whiteboards, presentations, whitepapers, napkin sketches, meetings, phone calls, obsessive ranting or lucid dreams (okay, I'll stop).
  4. Iteratively design the functionality, interface and interaction of the various required visual components, focusing on standards (e.g. brand usage, standard iconography) and usability notions such as feedback, performance and outputs. A best practice at this time is to involve users, stay in constant dialogue with development teams and continually gain buy-in from business teams.
  5. Often once the iterative step is mature UX pros may come up with a well designed functional prototype and once again iteratively test it for usability flaws.
  6. Project Managers should now be ranting on about versioning and release dates and timelines for developement cycles, indicating their comprehension of effort and direction ;-) You may agree that it is important to document every single point observed from the initial user research to how it shaped the product and how it has been taken into account.
  7. Once a version is ready, we conduct more usability testing now ensuring that the test scores perfectly against the output of the initial user research findings.
  8. As we conduct this last round of testing we evaluate and validate the relationship between the product and its supporting materials - documentation, FAQs, How-To, Quick Stat Guides, Tips - for consistency of experience and language
  9. Once the product is relased, keep an eye on forums, blogs, and any kind of structured or unstructured feedback and statistical or behavioral analysis that will reflect the solutions user experience maturity and inform necessary iterations as we move forward.
  10. Now we post the story about our work, what we did, get our talk ready for Adobe MAX, or get the screenshots and customer quotes ready for our book ;-)
This may not be all the steps and I have deliberately avoided complex or hardened methodologies typically proven out over long periods of time in well-established teams. This is more about what you can do, how you can go from having an interest in what UX is to actually doing it on your next project and helping to grow your business by investing in one of its best assets - customers or users and how much they love using your products or services.

Finally I would prefer to go over this article and replace every instance of USER with the word PEOPLE, but that's another story.

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