October 15, 2014 at 11:06pm
Mistake #3: Working in a Black Box
Lucy: We’re not in school anymore. You don’t have to prove that you worked harder than everyone else in your group project.
The best stuff goes out the door with a lot of fingerprints on it. Yeah, you need to make sure the project goes out by deadline - so you need to be picky about which ideas stay and which ones go based on good thinking and timeline - but the best work is done collaboratively with the input of many sources. And make sure to give credit where credit is due during meetings and presentations. You’re a jerk if you don’t and it builds up the team for future projects.
It feels a lot better to work together. A lot of negative emotions are averted when you open up your design process through group brainstorming sessions and hallway conversations. True ownership of a project is the ability to act on the best ideas. As my manger says, “Ownership does not equal total control.”
And, in the end, it’s a lot more fun to design collaboratively too.
Thanks to Craig Brookes for mentoring me through this mistake. It’s hard to let this mentality go, but it pays off enormously in increased team camaraderie and way better work.
Mistake #2: Wanting praise.
Lucy: As a new designer, I felt that I needed to get praise from my managers and coworkers in order to feel that I was doing a good job.
The problem was that this resulted in competing priorities and misconceptions (for example, while trying to build the pattern library, I wasted a lot of time trying to appease one team of PM’s with bureaucratic paperwork about process which then resulted in too much paperwork for our designers and a perception from the original PM team that I wasn’t doing anything. But if I had focused on appeasing the design team, then nothing would have gotten approved by the PM or developer teams and the designers would have been pissed in the end too). By trying to be all things to all people, it resulted in making me not being very helpful to anyone.
Once I stopped trying to look good and please certain groups, I started to have the courage to do the right research from the beginning and use these results to build a better product grounded in research and not my own desire for position and praise.
Having this UX mindset, my work took on a new sense of purpose and I could make much better decisions that benefitted the whole team (and any praise I got was an extra benefit).
Mistake #1: Pretend you know what you’re doing.
Lucy: I read a lot of books, blogs, and articles to prepare for the switch from visual design to UX. I would use snippets of these to try to make more sweeping insights - “We should use SASS instead of plain old CSS” without really understanding what this was. At first it gave me some cred, but it reinforced the impostor syndrome and really didn’t help our group since my ideas weren’t grounded in experience.
So how did I start to get the experience and confidence that would lend itself to better ideas? I started to ask ‘why’ in the right situations. I challenged myself to be a learner instead of the expert and to use asking why questions to my benefit: “Why did you place the navigation on the bottom?” is a much better new designer question than to state, “I would have placed it on the top…because that’s how someone in the blogosphere said to do it.” Someday, you’ll be able to talk from experience about navigation, but for now allow your coworkers to explain their thinking and use ‘Why’ as a tool to become a better designer and to gain credibility with your insightful questions and follow-up questions.
A golden question I came across (too late in this case - but you bet I’ll be using it in the future) is to take a more senior designer out to coffee and ask, “Tell me about the top 10 mistakes a new designer will make in this role.”
This question not only allows you to avoid big mistakes early on, but it allows the more experienced designer to let down their guard and therefore creates a more collaborative team environment.
It’s Not Easy Being Green: How to get Better at Being New
Lucy: Like Kermit the Frog, and through my own experience in doing it wrong, I’ve learned a few ways to be better at being new.
In my current job, I’m the youngest designer, the newest to be doing UX, and the only woman on my team.
I battled the impostor syndrome (a feeling that I was a fraud and somehow accidentally found myself as a UX designer). I thought I had to prove myself right away and be the best at something to be taken seriously. And I tried very hard to hide the fact that I would be doing a lot of the parts of UX design for the first time.
Now 11 months later, I want to share how I went about doing this all wrong in the next few posts and ways to be better at being new.
Let’s stop saying Information Hierarchy outside of the team room
Lucy: Where I work, UX is still a new thing. We’re still working out how we fit in with the rest of the company. Half the people I interact with on a daily basis don’t know what ‘UX’ even stands for.
This makes it easy to call our coworkers lazy, misinformed, or not focused on the customer when they give seemingly random feedback, request crazy last-minute mockups, and have a general disregard for ‘UX feedback’ while they’re building a product.
I actually think that our coworkers just don’t know what we do.
We use scary words or we use words that sound made-up. We don’t take the time to explain why we need to do research and how doing research will allow the entire team to build a better product and save weeks of work.
Instead, from the perspective of a developer or product manager, doing research sounds like a bottleneck to their sprint cycle, taking time to wireframe and review work sounds like a roadblock to coding, and having a bad ‘user flow’ (whatever that is) sounds like an embarrassing failure that they don’t even know how to begin solving (and have a feeling it will put them over deadline to boot).
I propose that our team sees being the new kid on the block as an opportunity to keep our designy-language in the team room and begin speaking to our in-house customers in plain language. We also need to talk about UX in terms that they really care about: time, money, and customer happiness.
That’s why I like these posters that the MailChimp UX team made. They took the findings from their UX research to develop multiple customer profiles in a fun, understandable-by-non-designers way and placed them in high-profile areas. It’s one creative step towards starting the conversation.
But this conversation has to continue in the 1-1 hallway conversations, in meeting rooms, throughout email exchanges, and during formal presentations in order to make UX matter.
Instead of whining about not being understood, I see my job as part designer, part teacher/communicator. I would rather understand what my coworkers care about, learn more about how they learn and understand ideas (in images, coffee conversation, spreadsheets?), and use this to help them understand that the UX process is well worth the investment.
My challenge to myself this next week is to have at least two conversations about research - breaking it down into understandable language and demonstrating how much time and money it will save.
Ideas aren’t like Light Bulbs
Lucy: I was in a staff meeting the other day with our whole management chain in the room, when an idea popped into my head about a direction our visual design strategy could take in the coming years.
This is perfect timing, I thought! All the right stakeholders, right here, in front of a group of designers who would back me up! This idea just can’t wait.
So I blurted out my seedling of an idea and…it got 100% killed quicker than it took for me to say the idea in the first place. And not only did it get shot down, if I ever bring it up again it’ll look silly that I still think it has legs of any kind.
Here’s what happened and the 3 reasons that idea-killing insecticide spray came out so fast and strong.
Wrong Time: Many ideas originally come out of our brains because we’ve made some sort of jump and connection between two or more unrelated things. Like the first computer mouse - it’s a connection between what a hand can do and the impersonal blinking cursor on the command line. Genius! But the outcome was a chunk of wood, a rubber ball, and a cord that got tangled when you moved your arm. If this was brought to market right after Doug Englebart was done building it in his garage, we might still be doing everything in command line. Probably not, but you get the point. The first ‘light bulb’ thought to come to you is usually not the best it can be - it’s just the ugly stepbrother to a whole world of ideas that build off that first spark.
Timing is incredibly important, but this doesn’t mean you need to wait until you have a high fidelity idea before shopping it around. It means you need to bring in the right people at the right time.
Wrong Audience: Unless the top level manager is your direct boss, don’t bring your new, half-formed idea to them. They’re used to polished presentations (or at least fully-formed thoughts) and can’t be bothered to put all the pieces together and make the mental, visual, and technical leaps it takes at this point in your idea’s life. They have a million other, more important, ideas on their minds and really can’t be expected to get behind anything that has obvious holes and no research/data behind it.
But your coworkers and peers (and if you have a good manager, then bring them in too) love to explore half-baked, exciting ideas. Start small by ‘testing’ out the idea to people who would get excited about it. Let them build upon your original idea by taking it apart and putting it back together into a more interesting, plausible form. Build momentum in the hallways and over beers before taking your idea upwards.
The beauty of sharing your idea with this audience is that bad ideas can be used as fodder to think of better ideas. Your coworkers are used to hearing bad ideas thrown around because it’s all part of the shoptalk. With this crowd, you’ll be able to keep your distance from the idea enough to kill it yourself when it sucks.
No Goal to Map to: This is the trifecta point between the problems our business is trying to solve, the end customer experience, and your idea. There are plenty of great ideas out there, but most don’t have a larger purpose for the business or customers. When a great idea comes along - see how it maps to your goals and make sure to talk about it in this way.
So go out there and start building momentum from the ground up on your ideas. You’ll see that good ideas will grow like weeds when planted in the right place and bad ones will die natural, timely deaths.
Cards Against Humanity Tabletop Deathmatch
Nicki: I was watching Max Temkin’s (one of the founders of CAH) XOXO Festival talk from last year. He tells a great story about how he and his friends created Humans vs. Zombies and Cards Against Humanity. I appreciate the way they’ve used Creative Commons licensing to keep CAH accessible and extensible, whether or not they like what’s been done with it. I wanted to call out the Tabletop Deathmatch as a great example of people doing something about a problem they see and uplifting others in the process. Max says they were at the largest tabletop gaming convention in the US and were surprised at how it was dominated by the big name game companies. They had hoped to meet other indie gamers but few could afford to produce their ideas and pay for a table on the show room floor. So they set up basically a scholarship that would support the first printing and a table at the convention. To decide who to award it to, they created the Tabletop Deathmatch. I haven’t watched the web series they made about it and the website doesn’t list who won so I’m not sure of the result. But I’m pleased to see this a small company providing this kind of encouragement to others in their field.
I’ve also see this in data viz. Sha Hwang is a pretty cool dude and at the end of his talk for Eyeo last year, he said he is planning on providing a living stipend to another designer for a given period of time to explore a useful-to-the-world design project because we all know we want to do that but end up working on projects that bring in money and rarely to these two types of projects align.
December 30, 2013 at 4:07pm
inFORM - Interacting With a Dynamic Shape Display
Nicki: Some food for thought. :)
BEAUTY OF MATHEMATICS
Nicki: I’m not sure I can add anything to that title. <3 <3 <3 =! <27
Get it???? (facepalm)
Along the lines of beautiful videos. Thanks for that recent one on Iceland!
September 24, 2013 at 1:02pm
Box by Bot & Dolly
Nicki: I was blown away by this video this morning. I am not up on cutting edge video projection technology or 3D mapping so I don’t fully understand what it took to do this. However, its one of those pieces that makes me so curious that I want to learn more about how it was made. I have a feeling that this is an example of something I’ve thought of before in art. There is a particular class of art, I’ve no idea if its called anything, where the art piece as a whole requires intense mastery of the tools in order for the artist to conceptualize what their piece will look like as a whole because there isn’t much prototyping or sketching that can be done. The artist really has to know their medium and what all the small pieces will look like together.
I love the quote at the end, it really sums up how I felt.
I hope I’ll make something so enormously complex and beautiful someday. I’ve no idea in what medium.
September 16, 2013 at 1:22pm
Designing (and converting) for multiple mobile densities
Nicki (09/16/13): Just super handy, a guide to pixel density and a calculator for converting between the main densities. Essential for anyone designing for a range of mobile devices. This is usually used by UI designers but I believe that UX designers need to take note of this too because the changes between the size of elements and text needs some loving UX thinking too. Thanks Teehan+Lax!
UX Team of One
Lucy: Leah Buley from Adaptive Path gives a great talk about her experience working as the only ux designer embedded in a large corporation. One big takeaway for me is the idea of generative design: to use different techniques when sketching out ideas to come up with a bunch of ideas to whittle down later. The way to judge which ideas are the best is to develop a set of design principles that are unique to each project. The principles come from the merging of the customer’s needs, the business needs, and ultimately taking the next step to create the experience. For example, she uses the re-design of the Evite website to show that a design principle there is for the site to be ‘addictive’. This encompasses both the customer’s needs to create invitations, getting their friends involved, and the business needs to grow the company by getting more and more people to use the service.
Another good point she makes is how a lot of ux research can be done with an ‘ad hoc’ group of people. Pulling in the engineers and the business partners to brainstorm and come up with ideas gets people excited and invested in a project. Getting rid of the ‘artiste’ mentality of wearing a beret while working alone in a locked room to produce rigid designs that must be followed by everyone or else - is an idea that produces a final design that is narrowly-focused and not best for the customer.
Good morning! Perspective - how big is our Moon?
And it’s about this far away (much farther than most people think):
The light from the moon is 1.28 seconds old. Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is Why didn’t Chris Hadfield put the moon over Canada?!
Combine this with a video about the true scale of the solar system.
Nicki: I couldn’t resist. I love this graphic! and i was surprised that the moon is that small?
Lucy: Wow. This is such a simple way to show the scale and yet still surprising:) Thanks for posting - really neat.
Why a New Golden Age for UI Design is Around the Corner
Nicki: This is a pretty good article about how the developing device ecosystem will bring us back towards a more integrated experience design profession; screens + real world entire interactions. I’m not sure why they targeted this toward UI design because in some sense its saying, well, your UI design skills will only go so far when you have to design for physical interaction or product design as well.
I like the Disney example at the beginning. I’ve heard most of this before but what was new to me was this philosophy:
Each new device should reduce the complexity of the system and increase the value of everything else in the ecosystem.
I’m pretty keen on that idea. It’s like “avoid feature-creep” for the entire ecosystem.
Kid’s Can’t Use Computers
Nicki: I love this short essay for its exploration of a false stereotype, technological literacy, and governance in the new era of computing ubiquity. It has got me worried though about things I’ve been ignoring. I’ve been more aware of the digital divide as a class issue but this is another angle where our entire society has a false sense of our understanding of our primary complex technology. It also scares me because I’ve been wondering if this is an argument for humans as a society being restricted to a low-level of intelligence for all time. But I do think we continue to become smarter and smarter as a whole, if we look back at where we’ve been with our levels of general understanding, because we have more shoulders to stand on with each generation. Maybe it just always feels too slow but is relative to the current times.