Tag Archives: UX Week

Ooh digital is a place on earth

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

Explaining user experience design with metaphors from construction

In November I shared some more UX Week takeaways in a talk at UCISA’s CISG-PCMG18 conference. It was UCISA’s bursary scheme that got me to San Francisco in the first place so it was great to meet the people behind it, along with 300 corporate information systems people and project/change management people from unis around the UK. Here’s the video of my 10min talk, and I’ve expanded on it a little in the write-up below.
My first recorded talk! Is this really my accent?

Inspiration

At UX Week I learned that designers love to do things in threes. By sheer coincidence, my talk was inspired by three things:
  1. The theme of CISG-PCMG18: Building Foundations for the Future
  2. My new favourite motto from UX Week: Build the Right Thing & Build the Thing Right
  3. The University of Glasgow’s ongoing campus development.
Maybe being surrounded by cranes, hoardings and the excitement of big building sites every day has made me hyper-aware of the metaphors from construction that show up again and again at UX and tech conferences: people talk about blueprints, foundations, scaffolds, platforms, information architecture​…
What if we fully commit to the analogy and think of our systems and services as literal places​? How might that help us design them in user-centred ways?​
At UX Week, three speakers went deep on this.

1. Digital as…public places

In his talk Living in Information (watch video)​, Jorge Arango looked at the broad, open digital systems intended for wide ranges of users — in HE that would include our Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), intranets and informational websites​ — and the places where people interact such as forums and chat services.
“These digital systems are more than products or tools…in many ways, they function like places: information environments that create contexts that change the way we think, act and interact…” — Jorge Arango
…so much so that we can directly apply architectural concepts.
Jorge originally trained as an architect then went into IT, and for many years was Director of the Information Architecture Institute​.
He highlighted three concepts:
  • Structure = design to support people’s existing mental models
    First we need to uncover and understand those mental models through exploratory research​ such as user interviews.
  • Systems = the key focus of design
    Architects don’t just design buildings for their own sake: they design whole environments for people to use. User journey mapping can help us recognise that our place forms part of the larger system of our University. This technique also shows us how the places we’re designing link with others in the local and wider information environment.
  • Sustainability = don’t pollute the information env​ironment
    We must consciously design content to avoid building in biases; avoid duplicating information​; and be careful not to damage useful concepts by using in inappropriate ways​.
Jorge’s example of the latter: “Breaking news” used to mean ‘Everyone needs to know this right now!!’ But now #Breaking is broken.
#Breaking is broken

2. Digital as…homes

Focussing in on the more personal places like homepages, dashboards and portals, visual designer Claudio Guglieri discussed HOME: Our everyday relationships with digital.
“For a vast group of people, home is no longer a physical space…many of us find comfort in digital environments.” — Claudio Guglieri
At the time, this quote immediately made me think of our youngest students, the so-called digital natives. For many, University is a massive life change, perhaps their first time away from home. You can imagine how the only bit of continuity they can rely on for comfort might be the familiar platforms they brought with them on their phones and laptops.
This idea applies much more widely too: our research for UofG UX showed that students and staff of all ages default to digital for connection and communication, entertainment, travel, shopping and to access support.
To this we’re adding a heap of new digital homes, so it’s important to consider how ours compare to the commercial places people go to for everything else. If they could choose, would they choose to use our system? But they can’t choose — we have a captive audience — so let’s put lots of care and respect into the homes we build for our students and colleagues, with the help of another set of three concepts:
  • Repetition = acknowledge that homes are for regular, repeated use
    Optimise for speed and don’t waste people’s time; kill pointless splash screens; automate out annoying repetition.
  • Evolution = minimise the impact of behavioural changes
    Claudio referenced a brilliant article by service designer Christina Wodtke: Users don’t hate change, they hate you. Change is inevitable but don’t just barge in and rearrange furniture: communicate carefully to avoid nasty surprises.
  • Ownership = reinforce people’s perception of control
    Localise, personalise and allow people to customise (but also set good defaults). And don’t get between intention and action: Claudio talked about poorly placed ads interrupting tasks but the same advice applies to comms: a message is only effective in the right context and when it offers value relevant to a person’s needs at time they see it.
To help defeat our assumptions and inform our decisions, the most helpful pointer is contextual inquiry: we must observe people’s actual behaviour in their digital homes.
We might think “Surely everyone knows how to find lecture slides in the VLE, it’s as easy as drinking a glass of water…” Claudio Guglieri won gif-of-the-week.

3. Digital as…escape rooms

The third type of place comes from Laura E Hall’s talk Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond. Laura is a game designer, famous for her real-world escape rooms, where you get locked in with a group of pals and have to solve puzzles and decipher clues to escape before the time runs out.
“A good puzzle tells you how to solve it, inherent in its design.” — Laura E Hall
Our digital escape rooms include registration and enrolment, online coursework submission, expenses, uploading results — anything where our captive audience has to complete a complex task to a deadline…all of which adds up to STRESS!
Laura talked about cognitive overload and ‘deep focus’, where people can’t see the wood for the trees.
There’s a key difference though: Laura aims to design IN the right level of stress to make game challenging and fun, while we want to design the stress OUT. Fortunately there are 3 handy concepts we can apply:
  • Simplify the process
    This is where UX merges with service design. Does the process really need to be this complex? Can we remove or automate any steps?
  • Simplify the interaction
    Through careful content design, represent the process as simply as possible, providing exactly what people need to complete their task and nothing more. See gov.uk for 100s of excellent examples.
  • Make it intuitive
    It’s always a good idea to apply usability heuristics but in our digital escape rooms more so than ever. Consistency, validation and error prevention and recovery are essential, as is maintaining the match between our system and real world by using the same language our users use.
And of course multiple rounds of usability testing and tweaking are essential to help our students and staff escape with confidence.
Image from Room Escape Artist’s review of the Edison Escape Room in SF. Laura called it one of the best in the world so a group of us went on the free evening in UX Week: it was SPECTACULAR 😀

4?! Digital as…boundaries and junctions

Time to break the rule of threes — gasp! This one’s not even from UX Week.
At UX Scotland in June, Kevin Richardson — a UX consultant with a background in cognitive psychology — gave a fascinating workshop on UX and the Spaces in Between. He explained how UX design can make the most difference at points of interface, highlighting three areas of tension in the ‘interaction ecosystem’:
  • Where an application meets a business process, especially legacy processes. ‘But we’ve always done it this way’ is no excuse for a poor user experience.
  • Where a person has to pass information between two systems: for goodness sake automate it!
  • Where a system meets the real world: why do students have to queue up for a print-out, which they then scan and email to their bank or council?

And finally…

The last quote goes to Mike Monteiro, the cantankerous UX evangelist, who sadly I didn’t manage to meet in SF.
“They don’t let just anybody walk in off the street and design a building.” — Mike Monteiro, speaking on the Voice of Design podcast
The same is true in digital: people want their places designed by professionals.
Whether we think of ourselves as architects, home-builders, game designers, city planners or just the IT crowd, every decision we make — or choose not to make — has an impact on the university experience for our students and colleagues, whatever type of place we’re building.
This blog first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
A copy of Kat’s slides from CISG-PCMG18 is available here.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

We are all human

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

Reflections on mental health from this summer’s conferences

Our users are humans, and so are we.

Inspired by some of the heartbreaking, challenging and thought-provoking stories I read on World Mental Health Day, here’s a breakdown of one of the themes that emerged from the conferences I attended this summer: UX Scotland, IWMW  and UX Week (the latter funded by a UCISA bursary).
These were my takeaways from the talks, case studies and throw-away lines that tugged at my heartstrings, and reminded me that before we can truly take care of our users, we need to take care of ourselves, and each other.

From Kevin Mears’ sketchnote for ‘10 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier (In My Career)’

Know yourself and own it

“Introverts are ace​”

Half way through opening IWMW with her talk ‘10 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier (In My Career)’, blew me away. Her voice cracking, she confessed to just how difficult and uncomfortable it was for her to stand up in front of us and talk. But here she was doing it anyway, and she’d done it hundreds of times before.
Her experiences were so much like mine it was uncanny: she’d faced crippling social anxiety, low self-esteem and depression; she was convinced there was something fundamentally wrong with her, and embarrassed by that, so the whole thing became self-perpetuating. She’d rarely dare speak up in meetings, so how did she transform herself into an articulate public speaker, and become Head of Digital then Head of Marketing?
The answer: someone believed in her enough to send her on a leadership course, where she learned from a speaker she respected and admired that he also struggled with nerves every time: turns out his distinctive relaxed-but-confident pose was actually his way of dealing with the discomfort and getting through his talks.
Alison took this revelation as evidence that, while it wouldn’t get easier, she too could find ways to put herself across clearly and inspire an audience. That self-belief led her to success.
I took three lessons from this:
  1. Believe in your introverted colleagues: shy-and-quiet doesn’t mean nothing-to-say.
  2. There’s value in being able to recognise yourself in others you admire and are inspired by, so look for it and be open to it.
  3. There’s value in openness: share your struggles and you will inspire others.
“For those of you that are introverts, I’ll not see you in the bar later!”

“Humans are cursed with human brains”

When stress overloads the human brain, it can become “deeply focussed, to the point of distraction” and reverts to pattern-seeking behaviour, as Laura E. Hall  explained in her UX Week talk on ‘Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond’ (which I briefly covered).
As designers, if we observe our users enough we can predict their stressors and mitigate them. And if we listen to them enough we can come to understand their behaviour and design for it.
It’s the same in self-care, with mindfulness — thinking about our thinking — as the key. Whether we’re intro-, extra- or ambiverts, and whether or not we’re also affected by poor mental health, the more we develop our self-awareness, and the more objectively we review and reflect on our actions, their causes and their outcomes, the less our brains can hijack us.

The problem of perfectionism

“It’s good to have ideals, but don’t be an idealist”

This was no. 4 in Alison Kerwin’s ‘10 Things’. Working in digital, we have access to an enormous amount of user data that isn’t available in other areas. Understanding this data helps us identify problems and what we might do to fix them but it’s just as important to understand the politics of our organisations and the interweaving priorities of our stakeholders.
For our sanity’s sake, we have to accept that we can’t fix everything. Instead we must be pragmatic and learn when to push and when to let things go.

“You will make mistakes”

And that’s fine, as Andrew Millar made clear in his IWMW talk ‘Stress…and what to do when everything starts falling apart. He pointed out that, whether the drive to achieve perfection is internally generated or the result of external pressure, the very concept of perfection is an illusion anyway.
Book-ending his moving personal story of learning to cope with a panic disorder, Andrew called for a culture change. There’s a lot we can do for ourselves, and for each other as teammates and managers, but employers must also take active steps to tackle work-related stress and its underlying causes.

One of many zingers from Steve Jobs’ 1997 WWDC talk

Beating imposter syndrome

Award-winning Hollywood Production Designer Hannah Beachler gave the opening keynote at UX Week. Hannah was headhunted by director Ryan Coogler to bring to life the Afro-futuristic nation of Wakanda for Marvel’s Black Panther. The $200 million movie was of course wildly successful, not least because of the entire civilisation she built, that persists in imagination beyond the edge of the screen.
How could someone who moves in those kinds of circles, and whose work is sought after and celebrated by so many people possibly doubt herself? But she did, and she talked inspiringly about faking it ’til she made it.
Meanwhile, another great point from Andrew Millar’s IWMW talk on stress highlighted the importance of both getting and giving an outside perspective: so that’s another vote for keeping yourself open to favourable comparison with your heroes, and for sharing your truth.

Possibly my favourite slide of the summer, from Andrew Millar’s talk on stress.
As for me, I’ve previously written about my in-the-moment tactics for beating imposter syndrome. I’m less affected by that now but still an introvert so, while keeping an eye on my energy levels and letting myself flop when necessary, I actively look for ways to trick myself into socialising.
For example at UX Week, where delegates get a notebook with a blank cover and there are prizes for the best designs, I decided to crowd-source mine by asking at least 20 random people to draw me a dog 🐕 It was a great conversation starter and I ended up with 27 dogs, a load more friends and contacts, and a runner’s-up prize — woot!
If you please, draw me a dog!

In summary

  • Know yourself and own it
  • Accept that perfection doesn’t exist
  • Share and share and keep sharing
  • We are all human.
This blog post first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Communicating with brains in survival mode

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

UX Week 2018: Tools we can use

An early contender for my favourite talk of UX Week 2018, which I attended courtesy of a UCISA bursary, was Laura E. Hall’s on ‘Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond: Lessons from Escape Room Games’.
I’m a huge fan of online puzzle and room escape games, and loved hearing about Laura’s work designing real-world ones.
For starters there were so many crossovers between escape room game design and web design: the need to manage users’ cognitive load, minimise stressors, and communicate story or message, and the importance of accessibility.
Further, I’m writing this during University of Glasgow’s registration and enrolment period: one of the most stressful and most digital-centric times of the year for students. If we could apply Laura’s ideas on how to communicate with the brain when it’s in survival mode, maybe we could smooth this out…
I highly recommend watching the whole of Laura’s 34 mins talk below, or for just the ‘survival mode’ chunk start at 15 mins in.

Phew

All this just from 1 talk and 1 workshop?! More soon…in the meantime, you can watch many of the other talks at the official conference recap.
This blog post first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

A new way to build personas

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

UX Week 2018: Tools we can use

Thanks to the UCISA bursary scheme, I was lucky enough to attend UX Week 2018 in San Francisco.
The best thing about going to conferences is meeting and learning from lots of lovely people who are trying to do the same things I try do to. UX Week surrounded me with hundreds of such lovelies, from all over the world, for 4 full-on days of talks, workshops and social events. It was big, bright and — in the best possible way — exhausting!
The other best thing about going to conferences is picking up new ideas and methods I can apply in my work. UX Week certainly lived up to its fantastic reputation for delivering ‘new tools you can put to use immediately’.  I took so many notes that I’m going to have split up my write up across several blog posts.
I’ll start with the ideas that lodged themselves the deepest; the ones my jetlagged brain still churns through at 3am.

Ditch the demographics: segment users by thinking style

For prospective applicants, instead of: ‘Lower GPO’ / ‘Higher GPO’ / ‘Older Student’ / ‘Low-Income’, Indi proposed: ‘Passionate About The Topic’ / ‘Means To An End’ / ‘Looking Forward To The University Experience’ / ‘Exploring Paths’.
Indi Young proposed this new way of building personas in her workshop Paying Better Attention to the Problem.
The idea stuck with me because I’ve really struggled with persona-building. Also because, marvellously, one of her slides covered the thinking styles of university applicants, making it instantly relatable.
During the University of Glasgow UX project, I don’t think it ever occurred to us to categorise our users as anything other than students at different levels of study, and staff in different job families. But when it came to assembling our ‘Digital Life’ interview findings into personas, we found it almost impossible to generalise within these broad categories.
Worse than that, in hindsight I see that personas based on these categories wouldn’t actually help me! I produce internally-facing content for our current students and staff, much of it quite technical. When I’m rewriting, for example, the instructions for connecting to campus wifi, how can I consider the need of First Year UGs vs. Final Year, PGRs vs. Professional Services Staff? They all just need to get connected!
But what about the needs of ‘Help, This Is My First Smartphone’ vs. ‘I Got This, Just Tell Me The Settings’? Now there are two groups I can work for 😃.
I’ve made up these thinking styles, but I fully intend to go back through the interviews we’ve done so far (you know, when I’ve got a spare month…) to identify our users’ real ones.

More tips for demographic-free persona building

  • No photos: Sophie Dennis has observed “One client used a photo of a young blonde-haired woman. That persona would get dismissed as ‘The Blonde.’”
  • Use gender-neutral names, or no names at all, and write bios in the first person
  • Phrase the thinking styles so that users would be happy to identify with them
  • Understand that one person can switch between multiple thinking styles depending on the circumstances.

Empathy = listening

Indi also went into great and fascinating detail on the concepts of cognitive bias, empathy, separating the problem space from the solution space, and how a UX designer should aim to be “woke”:
  • Try not to fall prey to cognitive bias
  • Recognise what systemic bias is
  • Aim for more goals than only ROI
  • Avoid using demographics to refer to a user
  • Be aware that your own culture is one of many.
More on UX Week to follow.
This blog post first appeared on the UofG UX blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Seeking user experience design inspiration

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

UX Week 2018, San Francisco

Thanks to the UCISA bursary scheme, I’ve come from Glasgow to San Francisco for UX Week 2018. It’s awfy pretty here, though I have been accused of bringing the Scottish ‘summer’ with me. 
UX Week is a ‘premier’ annual conference, now in its 16th year, with a fantastic reputation for delivering ‘new tools you can put to use immediately’. As a self-taught user experience researcher, and leader of a grassroots project to build a UX Framework for my University, I like the sound of that very much. 
In my work on internally-facing websites and digital systems at the University of Glasgow, I try to employ the UX mindset and methods at all times. This helps me defeat my assumptions and produce data-driven content that solves our users’ actual problems in ways that are intuitive to them.

Levelling up and sharing the love

Over the next four days, I aim to level-up my UX skills and toolkit, and pick up lots of tips on how to communicate the benefits of UX, especially to senior management.
I will channel my new knowledge into my University’s drive towards user-centred services, and share it with other universities through the Scottish Web Folk group, the HE-Digital Slack channel, and here on the UCISA blog.

Learning from the best

The range of speakers looks amazing: as well as UX researchers and designers we’ll be hearing from academics, authors, project managers, CEOs, founders and futurists. Content themes include accessibility and inclusivity, the ethics and social power of design, and how we might imagine the future into being.
As well as two full days of talks, I’ll also be attending four half-day workshops. These promise to be practical, hands-on and pretty intense:
• Maps & Markers: Enacting a Strategy to Transform Your Design Team
• Paying Better Attention to the Problem
• We’ve Done All This Research, Now What?
• Just Show the Data! How to Design Better Data Visualizations.

Community of practice

As much as all the scheduled stuff, I can’t wait to be surrounded by user experience professionals from loads of different backgrounds and industries; in my experience so far, UXers are utterly lovely people.
And of course the organisers of a conference about human-centred experience design, have designed in plenty of fun, human experiences: amongst other things, the social programme includes trips to a street food festival and SF’s Exploratorium…I think it’s going to be a good week.
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.