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Generally speaking, this is the process we use at Fresh ID, and that I have used when UE Manager to launch products and complete projects like websites or marketing campaigns. Depending on budget, time, and commitment to the user experience, some or all of these things may be done.
My Thought Process
The psychology of users is fascinating to me.
Why do users do one thing while saying another, what motivates them to complete or finish their tasks, what distracts them, what obstacles and personal problems do they deal with while engaged with something I have worked on are things I am curious about. Understanding the why behind the action taken or not taken is how I help companies sell products or services.
In an interview I was asked to critique something in a couple of minutes I had zero understanding of. In the real world, few designers or user experience practitioners would feel comfortable sharing opinions and proclamations (much less decisions or recommendations) without a thorough understanding of the topic, the audience, their understanding of possibly cryptic industry lingo, where they are in the buying vs. using path and more.
To begin defining a mental model of a user’s thought process, I use tools like observation (field studies), scenarios/use cases, competitive research, interviews with company staff like salespeople or customer service, interviews or focus groups with real/potential users, task analysis and journey maps.
To then begin designing the conceptual model for developers to work from, I use sitemaps, info architecture diagrams, sketches, wireframes and visual or simulated prototypes with lots of developer notes to help them understand interaction details, in addition to spending time consulting with devs and product marketing to continuously educate them about the why behind the design approach.
Flexible, Fast and Agile
User Testing is sometimes done before, during or after the product/project is finished.
At PentaSafe, we had so many products to rebrand and design new products and features for as part of a master marketing plan to attempt security industry domination, that we decided to do user testing on Beta or finished products after launch, to determine what needed to be changed in the next release, rather than upfront or during on paper as some user experience practitioners desire. This worked best for my small team of just 4-6 people and for the 9 development teams we served, all of us under a lot of pressure to get things to market fast.
Agile and Lean Development requires adaptability and adjustments to fit User Experience in.
All of the companies I have worked with on software design followed some sort of Agile (for Security/Enterprise) or Lean (Six Sigma Enterprise) development process. In basic terms, programmers work on small pieces of the product at a time to keep focus, as they “sprint” to create something that is very complex.
User Experience however, is a big picture process – to successfully define and deliberately create an experience I think about pre-sale or first mention (seeing an ad, hearing about it from a friend) all the way through using that product and needing help, to end of life of that product or the user canceling service. Because I was responsible for multiple, integrated products, I did not exactly work the same sprints or sit with development teams and deliver files and images daily. In these cases we planned in advance what they needed in upcoming sprints and then my team delivered that, working ahead of developers. When you service multiple development teams with varying release dates, everyone has to be flexible with the process and approach. This always worked well for the teams I was on, and I also knew when we could review finished features and could plan for that too.
For Windows and Linux-based software, we did not need to do every screen, but rather set the standards and patterns for devs to follow, so that every table and graph they completed looked like it should. Usually after providing the “shell design” that included standards like where to place common tasks, dropdown menus, navigation, header, footer, colors etc. we provided new icons and helped them design more complex layouts for a feature/screen as needed. With web applications, we often designed every single screen or template and gave them to developers.
Sketching and brainstorming takes less time than wireframes.
I have found that sketching, and brainstorming with developers and marketing directly during an Agile process is immensely faster than creating complex wireframes these days. I sometimes have partial wireframes, partial prototypes with dev notes, phone pics of whiteboard plans and sketches, but not one giant, formal wireframe document for a product/feature. This is because during a meeting we come up with solutions that everyone is on the same page about, and then we each go do our piece of it: designers to design the visual screens and developers to code back-end functions while waiting on those screens, with documentation writers and marketing working on their tasks in parallel also.
Tools I Use
As long as I can do it on a Mac, I use whatever gets the job done.
I see a lot of emphasis on “user experience tools” by some firms, and this is never something I have been stringent about as a UE Manager. Whatever communicates in the most efficient and clear manner to developers is fine with me, and that could be a sketch, a wireframe done somehow saved as PDF, a simulated prototype in HTML with notes, a PDF of screens with notes done in a visual app like Photoshop/Illustrator, a doc app like Word/Pages or a presentation app like Powerpoint/Keynote.
Personally, I have used Omnigraffle and Visio in the past. I was a Beta partner when Peldi launched Balsamiq, and used it quite a while. I did a trial of UXPin but did not find it intuitive enough. Right now for Fresh ID clients I most often use Illustrator for wireframes and structural info architecture docs, Photoshop for screen design, and inVision for simulated prototypes, which I love because we don’t have to produce HTML sites just for that purpose anymore.
Unless doing a simulated prototype, I usually deliver documents as PDF’s, sometimes in the structure of an online site like the Product Design Guides I do, or organized in a cloud-based project management site where a team of remote workers communicate, share files and post things for review.
UXP Validation Capabilities
I consider myself a user experience specialist, though I have usually designed or directed the visual UI too.
I built a $95k usability lab at Pentasafe and we made user testing part of the software lifecycle process that had to be followed. Much of this formal usability testing had to be done on Windows or Linux-based machines.
For Fresh ID clients, without a lab, I typically do informal user testing sitting with someone at their office or mine. I have used online platforms to do remote testing but find in-person testing to be the most informative.
I passionately love to shadow users in a Field Study or to do Field Recon. There is nothing else in my mind that delivers so much raw psychological data as watching the user in their natural habitat, without interrupting them. I don’t prefer to do contextual inquiry in the field, but in the lab/office. I talk to users after observing them ideally, to ask questions about what I saw.
In all of the above cases, the outcome is the same: I write up a report with executive highlights so they don’t have to read fine details, and problems submitted as bugs to be fixed, requirements written to go into an upcoming release, and remaining issues given to another stakeholder if it is something I am unsure about or we know we can’t do right now, if ever. So this was not a wasted expense to the company, the goal is to take action on what was discovered.
Continuous design reviews are how I make sure that products stay on track, are designed consistently, and if integrated as part of a suite or large company offering, that the branding and messaging is aligned.
While my team does not do QA testing, we do find things that need to be properly tested and possibly fixed, so we often have a login for the bug tracking platform QA is using.
For websites, my team does do responsive testing on various browsers, devices and hardware and have to either design changes or have developers fix responsive issues.
Teams & Project Types
I have worked on three types of teams, usually as leading the creative direction of the project or as the user experience manager:
• Teams I have managed entirely (for Fresh ID client projects)
• Teams where I was a consultant to design the User Experience, working with a software firm’s R&D and Marketing employees
• As UE Manager, serving as a cross-functional bridge between R&D and other departments like Marketing, Customer Service and Operations
The projects or products I have worked on are typically:
• Large-scale enterprise, data-intensive products in an integrated product suite that I designed (for every platform except the Mac)
• Omni-channel member-based applications for fans/communities
• Websites, ecommerce and web applications – quite a few done on the WordPress platform
• Single web applications where I also did all the branding and marketing design for startups
• Tons of small-to-large scale print, social media campaigns and digital marketing assets, including the copywriting
User Experience Design Activities
Why I sometimes can’t go to dinner with my friends or family. 🙂
This document was made for some purpose a long time ago, but I need to update it. Some of what I do for ecommerce sites is what I call “virtual visual merchandising” and that is not reflected here, nor is the responsive work we always do today.
My first job out of high school was as a Visual Merchandiser for JCP, and a bit of trivia: that is why I ultimately became a designer who has a passion for retail and physical places also. They offered to send me to training to become a VM Manager, but I was worried I would be stuck in that role my whole career if I took the opportunity, so I quit my job to take some graphic design courses (at Houston Community College.) While doing that I wound up becoming Marketing Director at Whole Foods Market (Wilcrest) in Houston, where we did signage, newsletters, banners and things on a black and white Mac Classic with a black and white, very expensive scanner. That was the origin of learning how to do print design, which led to web design which led to software design.