Category Archives: Uncategorized

Planning for Content

Karen McGrane gave a terrific presentation on Content Strategy, and what happens when we re-design a site, and decide to go live with the existing content. Anyone interested in providing their users with a good experience with their content should absolutely watch this presentation.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from Karen’s talk:

  • “We tell ourselves we don’t need good content, we just need good templates.”
  • “We don’t plan time to create and edit content…”
    “Emphasize the real goal…better information for site visitors.”
  • “Do usability testing with content providers…(not just end users).”
  • “Challenge the schedule: content before design!”
  • “Don’t just persuade: start planning, writing, and editing.”
  • “People don’t go to your site to look at your templates. They go for the content.”

When you think about it, we all produce content: on Twitter, our blogs, podcasts, and other social media updates.  I would be interested to discuss how important it is to produce a good content experience personally and professionally. This reminds me of the old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

What are your thoughts on planning for  content? How do you plan for content on the sites, blogs, micro-blogs, podcasts, etc. that you are producing?


Asserting yourself – one no at a time

Learning how to say “no” is not easy.  Dealing with what comes after the no, the disappointment, disapproval, and rejection from those you said no to, can sometimes seem unbearable. As a User Experience Researcher, I think we are constantly told that we are worth ‘less than’ our more technical counterparts. We are told we are a ‘cost’ to the organization, and that we can’t be picky about the work given to us.  If we say no to staying over the weekend to complete a project, we fear that we will hurt our professional relationships that we have worked so long to build, and jeopardize our job security.

I started reading The Power of a Positive No by William Ury, and it has dramatically changed the way I view my work as a UX Researcher. The following are a series a lessons from the book, and how I think these sessions in positive assertiveness apply to a UX Researcher.

1. “I need to tell them no in a way that is clear, honest, and respectful, and then let them react however they react.” William Ury, The Power of a Positive No

UX Researchers often take on too many projects, and say yes to helping too many people. We don’t know how to be upfront and honest about our heavy workload, because we know that it will cause a negative reaction to the person we are speaking with. Also, we worry and can’t bear to say no to a project, or say no to helping someone because we are trained to “go with the flow” as facilitators. We are great at accommodating participants, and doing whatever it takes to make them happy. However, we need to learn to stick up for ourselves – the right way, and that we cannot control how others will react. All we can do is do our best to be honest, clear, and respectful, and this means we are doing the best we can.

2. “Give respect not because of who they are but because of who you are.” William Ury, The Power of a Positive No

Giving respect is the best way to have stakeholders and co-workers accept your “no.”  When you show stakeholders and co-workers you respect where they are coming from, and understand the pain they are going through that would cause them to bring their request to you, it is much easier for them to see that you are not rejecting them personally when you say “no.” It is critical to put yourself into other people’s shoes, and do whatever it takes to understand what the motivations are behind their request, and show them that you understand where they are coming from. It might be painful or difficult to show respect to stakeholders or co-workers who disrespect you. However, the reason you need to show this respect, as the quote above suggests, is simple:  give respect not because of who they are, but because of who you areUX Researchers have good interests at heart. They work as advocates to improve the human experience of using Web sites, software, apps, and other technologies. This is very important to keep in mind when asserting yourself – be empathetic with your co-workers, and their needs, and it will take you far.

3. “You have done the essential prepatory work. You are like an athlete who has trained hard. Now during the race it is time to reap the rewards of that hard work.” William Ury, The Power of a Positive No

Before I get to how this quote applies to UX Researchers, I need to discuss an anaolgy brought up in The Power of a Positive No. UX Researchers can learn a lot to learn from trees, in terms of how to stand strong.  William Ury talks about how trees have deep roots in the ground that keep their trunks standing strong.  He says, our “no” is the trunk of the tree.  Our “yes” is in what we are rooted in, and in what we produce.  Our trunks however must stand strong, because if they break, what we produce dies.

UX Researchers need to do their essential preparatory work:  deepening their roots in their “yes.” They need to spend time growing in their knowledge and belief in advocating for users, building empathy for users, making actionable insights, and inspiring development teams with user empathy.  Spending time “on the balcony,” as William Ury calls it, discovering our deep core values and interests, enables us to have that strong trunk that grows out of them.  The deeper our roots, the harder it is for someone to uproot us. Even if we are chopped down, if our roots are strong, they will always grow back.  The goal of course would be to have blossoming branches of UX Research, providing useful customer feedback, validation, and get the voice of the customer to be lived and breathed into the very products we ship.

Seven Tips for Presenting Usability Issues to Stakeholders

In a previous life, I was a Library and Information Science masters student, and part-time reference desk librarian. I worked in the Biomedical library, connecting medical students and professionals to journals, articles, research, studies, books, knowledge…I attended medical library conferences and studied how to help medical professionals with “evidence-based practice.” As a
result, I became adept at helping people find evidence to base their practice on in medical research literature. That skill has certainly served me well as a user experience researcher as I work closely with designers and stakeholders, and now unsurprisingly, finding and delivering evidence to inform design decisions is my absolute favorite part of this wonderful job.

I’m in the thick of user research on my current project, and along the way I’ve been reminding myself of all sorts of best practices I learned from the brilliant Joan Kaplowitz, an Information Literacy Librarian.  Using her advice, I do everything I can to make sure the people consuming the information I present, are getting what they need and informing the design questions they have.

My hope is what works well for me, using Joan’s principles, will help you too when you have to communicate your results to a team of stakeholders.

1. Engage your stakeholders

“Active learning is better than passive reception for retention and transfer of learning.” Joan Kaplowitz

In my experience, the best way to engage stakeholders, and have them actively learn usability issues is to involve them in the research.  Having them come to observe usability test sessions and contribute their observations to an affinity diagram is a very effective way for them to retain the feedback they hear, and see trends across users.  One strategy I learned from attending the Nilesen Norman Group Usability Bootcamp in 2007 was from Kara Pernice: have your observers take notes on post-its (quotes, observations, one issue per post-it), and then change color post-its for different participants. Then you can start to group issues together with stakeholders, and see usability trends across users (colors). Your diagram of groups then can turn into your report, transcribing your wall of insights into a presentation slide deck or any other format.

2. Keep it lightweight

“Less is more. It is better to teach a few things well than to overwhelm learners with so much information that they become frustrated, anxious, and unable to retain anything from the instruction.” Joan Kaplowitz

The best way to describe this principle as it applies to reporting usability findings was best articulated by Todd Wilkens from Adaptive Path: “The effectiveness of your research report is inversely proportional to the thickness of it’s binding.”  You will be so much more effective in making change happen, and getting people to take action on your findings, if you don’t overwhelm them with new information. Your goal is to inspire your stakeholders to address the usability issues, and have designers solve the usability problems.  Then, validate those changes were successful with another round of testing!

3. Get them talking

“The instructor’s voice should be the one heard least during teaching.” Joan Kaplowitz

The best presentations I’ve ever given have been because I met with stakeholders ahead of time to get a sense of what they learned from watching usability sessions. Get designers to tell you what they learned, because it doesn’t matter so much what is in your head, as it does what is in theirs. Before giving your final presentation to the larger group of stakeholders, talk with your key stakeholders, and have them tell you what they learned, observed, and took away from the sessions.  Review the takeaways you intend to present, and invite them to add to it. Your final presentation will be far more effective at inspiring change to happen.

4. Grab them in the first 5 minutes

“You win or lose your audience in the first five minutes. Talk to your learners as they enter the room. Provide them with something to do and/or think about as people are arriving. Engage them from the start.” Joan Kaplowitz

Sometimes the beginning of the findings presentation is the most challenging, because all your great insights are coming later in your slide deck.  However, the beginning of a presentation ALWAYS sets the stage for the message you are giving. Get to the presentation room early, and build rapport with each person who comes through the door.  Great them with a hello, and say their name (people love to hear their own name).  The goal before the presentation starts is to get “audience members” on your side, because in my experience, these are the folks that that are most likely to help fend of hecklers in your defense! Also, you want a strong introduction.  You definitely don’t want to stumble through your first 2 minutes of speaking.  Here is a basic introduction that I use often – but the more creative you can be the better!

“Great, let’s go ahead and get started. Today we are going to talk about_____________. We have about 45 minutes for the discussion, and I’ll leave some time at the end for questions, but if you have any questions along the way, please feel free to ask. First I want to ask… who had a chance to observe the sessions?  Great, well if there is anything you would like to add that you remember observing, please feel free…”

5. Demonstrate each key issue

This advice I learned on the ground floor at the UCLA Biomedical Library reference desk.  Students, nurses, patients, etc. would come to the desk asking how to use the library databases.  The most effective way for them to learn how to use the databases wasn’t just telling them, but actually demonstrating it to them. In fact, it was best if you could hand the keyboard to them, and have them drive themselves.  In an usability findings presenation, you really want to re-create the issues that participants had during the session.  Stakeholders tend to be quite visual, and greatly benefit if you show them what you mean.  Take full screen shots, and simulate the experience of using the technology using basic animations such as fading in.  This seems to be the best way to re-tell the story, and have your findings really sink in with stakeholders.

6. Keep track of your effectiveness

“Always include a way to assess your outcomes. Otherwise you will have no idea if your learners have attained them.” Joan Kaplowitz

In the world of UX Research, the best way to assess your outcomes is to keep track of which issues are on the plan to getting fixed, and which ones have not been fixed. You can keep track of these in an Excel spreadsheet on your own, but the best is to have your issues make it to the product roadmap.  You want to see your usability issues turn into “user stories” if you are working with Agile teams, or possibly the roadmap, bug fixes, or “change requests” if you are working in a waterfall environment. However your organization keeps track of changes that need to be made to the system, do what you can to make sure usability issues are represented there.

7. Take a multi-format approach

“Use handouts, web pages, and pre and post activities to extend your contact time with your learners. Offer ways for learners to keep the conversation going after instruction is completed — through email, blogs etc.” Joan Kaplowitz

A PowerPoint presentation is a great way to walk through usability findings.  However, you don’t want to only deliver a slide deck. In addition to your presentation, you will want to give a “hand out” to your key stakeholders, the people who need a “check list” of things to address.  Don’t rely on them taking their own notes during the presentation, give them a list that they can easily make notes to.  You don’t need to pass this out to everyone, just to your 1 or 2 key stakeholders. Also, I’ve seen a follow up email work really well, with a link to your presentation, to the recording of the discussion, and a couple bullets that summarize the key takeaways.  Inviting users to continue the conversation using wiki pages is a great way to keep them engaged, and continue with next steps.

So there you have it. This is my very best advice on how to present usability findings so that it inspires your stakeholders to take action. Many of the information literacy principles listed here apply to basing design decisions on evidence.   How do you communicate your usability issues?

Six Great Articles To Improve Your Writing

Do you want to become more comfortable blogging? Crafting a strategy to post interesting posts frequently can be a challenge.  Here are 6 articles from expert bloggers who discuss how to generate useful posts, how to get over the need to be perfect, and how to get your ideas out there as often as you can.

1.  “How to write 3 blog posts in one day” by Chris Brogan (writes 4000 words per day!).  Chris encourages readers to get over the need for everything to be perfect in order to write, but to instead find pockets of time to write. You can do this if you keep a notebook in your back pocket, take photos of interesting things, use Evernote to capture your thoughts, etc. He advises that you get into the habit of seeing everything with curious eyes, and show the world what you are seeing. He also says not to be afraid to write clunkers, and write imperfectly…

2. “How to write a great blogpost in 15 minutes” by Nerma Moore
Nerma recommends developing an organizational format for each of your articles (so you don’t have to think about this each time). She says to keep a bank of headlines (questions, quotes, short story title spoofs, stats). She of course says to time yourself, and strive to write short, comprehensible sentences – then, step away from the computer. She says to “think progression, not perfection.”

3. “5 simple ways to open your blog post with a bang” by Brian Clark.
Brian outlines 5 ways to start your blog posts. The most interesting ideas were to share an anecdote that will make people laugh, and use words like “Imagine” or “Picture this” or “Do you remember when…” I think I could also have fun with using analogies, metaphors, or similes, as he suggested, especially if I can conclude the article with a tie back to the beginning. Fantastic read!

4. “The reason you are stuck”
by Seth Godin.
“You must find something SO IMPORTANT that it is worth enraging your prehistoric fears, SO IMPORTANT that you can’t sleep until it ships, SO IMPORTANT that yes, you are willing to go through all the hoops Leo lays out for you in order to ship. Either that, or you could be mediocre instead.”

5. “How to write an executive summary” by Eric Markowitz.
Eric starts out his article with a 2 sentence sub-headline, that summarizes why you should read the article – great technique! He also advises that the executive summary should tell readers what it is that you do, and why they should read the rest of your text, proposal, results, report, etc. He says your first sentence is the executive summary of the executive summary, and that you should tailor your summary to your audience (much like you tailor a resume to a job description). Your summary should strike a chord with your readers, and describe how you’re report is special/unique in a certain way. Finally, I really liked his idea to create an executive summary that matches the outline of your report, and to include a section called Why Now, to show the urgency of reading the report. Great ideas!

6. “Rethink your web presence” by Chris Brogan.
Chris says we need to think about what users want when they come to our Web site, Twitter page, LinkedIn page, Facebook page, etc. First, we need to spell out who we want to come to our sites. Next, we need to identify how they will know they belong there. After that, we need to show what we want them to do – and make this really obvious. Finally, we need to explain how they can stay in touch with us. Great tips!

What materials have you read about how to write better? Please feel free to share in the comments!

Bonus Articles:

“Elements of a Good LinkedIn Recommendation” by Chris Brogan

“How to write Better Linked In Recommendations” by Lisa B. Marshall

Do you need to be right all the time?

Have you ever tried to introduce a new idea, but had people tell you that it is a bad idea? Have you ever voiced a concern, or offered an alternative direction, and heard someone say to you:

“No, that won’t work…that’s not possible…that’s not relevant.”

It can be unsettling to face resistance, especially when the resistance happens in front of others. It can feel like a huge blow, and can be very hard to swallow the fact that people don’t see where you are coming from. It seems as though UX Professionals in particular feel tempted not to voice their opinion at all, when they have faced too much resistance. However, we can’t let these things get to us. We need to learn to let things roll off our backs, and move on. Here are five tips and advice that UX professionals can use to approach conflict:

1. Change your attitude. UX professionals think very highly of themselves, and have a tendency to position themselves as higher, or more important than others. When others resist their idea, it comes into conflict with how they view themselves – how could anyone not support my brilliant design decision? How could they not understand all this brilliant research I have done? Newsflash: you are not more important than anyone else. So, change your attitude, get over it, drop the ego, and move on.

2. Be humble and gentle. You may be very passionate about your idea, and you may want change to happen no matter what the cost. You might be tempted to talk about your years of experience and accomplishments, thinking that it makes you more credible, and that they should listen to you more. But this just makes you come off arrogant and conceited. It really does NOTHING for your cause. Also, be sensitive to the fact that maybe those you are talking to are not ready to fully embrace your idea. Give them the opportunity to solve the problem as well – treat them the way you want to be treated, and seek out their thinking and expertise on the issue. Be gentle and soft-mannered in your response back.

3. Do not introduce a new idea out of selfish ambition. Before talking with your team about a new idea, determine why you are introducing this new idea. Your team will be able to sniff out any selfish reason you are trying to get them to adopt your thinking, especially if you are looking to get more recognition. Think instead about what would be best for the team, and for your fellow teammates. Generate new ideas and opinions that make them shine, advance, give them more flexibility, or help them become a more balanced employee.

4. Don’t consider perfection as something you can grasp. Accept the fact that you will fail, and make mistakes, and that others will make mistakes too. You can’t possibly be perfect at everything, and mistakes will come, no matter how hard you try to prevent them. Keep a notepad with you at all times – when you make a mistake, write it down, and what you will do differently next time. Then move on. Also, don’t expect others to be perfect either – they are human, just like you.

5. Be patient. Your idea may be a good one, or you may have a legitimate concern. However it might just not be the right time to introduce your idea. You can always come back to it later, if you feel you are still concerned. But just be patient for your team to get to a point where they are ready to try your new idea.

You don’t have to be right all the time, and you don’t have to stress when others don’t see things from your point of view. Life goes on, and if you treat each other right, you might just get more accomplished than you thought you could have otherwise.

“The happiest of people make the most of what comes their way.” ~Unknown

Sometimes User Experience Research can be stressful. It can be difficult to manage competing priorities between clients and projects, and it is nearly impossible to please everyone. No matter how hard you try, you can’t be “perfect.” How then, can we make sure that we are delivering value to the organizations we serve?

Make the most of your mistakes. I’m learning more and more, that instead of perfecting a project to flawlessness, it is more important to make the most of the hours I’m given, and embrace any mistakes that come my way. Doing your very best, and giving it your all, suddenly isn’t about putting in all the hours you can, but making the most of your mistakes.

Address the root cause of your failures. Instead of putting in a ton of hours perfecting your work, embrace your failures, and instead spend more time finding new ways to solve the root problem for the failure (lack of resources, clarifying priorities, etc.).

Show your clients & employers that you can pace yourself, and won’t burn out. Clients and employers really want to make the most of our services, and are happiest when they can use our talents and skills to their fullest potential. They don’t want us to burn out, hit a wall, or crash. They want us to continue to produce high value to their organization.

The only choice I see, is to work hard during the hours we are given, make mistakes along the way, and learn from them. This does not mean we should slack off, and not do our best at work. It means learning to say no to distractions, and being highly efficient in our work.

Blogging through “Observing the User Experience”

I’ve decided that if I really want to learn and grow as a User Experience Researcher, I need to read and apply more best practices. I was really inspired by Julie and Julia, the story of a woman who blogged her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as a way to commit to learning to cook.

In Observing the User Experience, Mike Kuniavsky from Adaptive Path writes why user research is good, and how it fits into product development. He also addresses various research techniques, and ways to communicate results. Much of what I think, worry, ponder over all day every day.

I look forward to reading and writing about the book, and how I apply it daily.

Stay tuned!

Build Your UX Stamina

“Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” – John Wooden

As a UX professional, you will face many opponents – many people will want to fight you. They will play devil’s advocate, mistreat you, and question your work. They will resist your ideas and tell you tell you you can’t do what you want to do.

So much of the work a UX Professional does is subjective and artistic – there isn’t a right or wrong way to do what we do. However, people will fight you, grill you with questions and disapprove of your judgement.

This will exhaust you – unless you have the stamina to sustain you. How do you build the stamina needed to continue to stand up for what is right? For me, I need to build physical stamina. With strong physical stamina, I have the strength in my heart to:

* remain calm in the midst of conflict
* confront conflict at work and family
* stand up for myself
* call co-workers out when they do something wrong
* work through conflict with difficult people
* do the right thing, when others pressure me not to
* say “no” when someone tries to take advantage of me
* set and enforce boundaries with children and family

UX Professionals need strength in their heart to stand up for what is right. If you tend to get exhausted in the midst of conflict, confrontation, bullying, or pressure – try building your physical stamina. You might just find the strength to do the right thing.

From Diplomacy to Research: The Road Less Traveled

Many people ask me, “how did you get from studying Political Science as an undergraduate, to working for a software company testing the usability of their products?” Well, the truth is, it wasn’t a straight path, and I had no idea I would have come down this road to usability research. However, what really happened was that I was pursuing different careers, and checking them off my list for various reasons. So here is the truth – three stories of what pointed me to working in research instead of law, public affairs, biomedical libraries, etc.

Story #1: Working in a Public Affairs Firm. Just before I graduated from college, I decided I would like to put my degree to use by working on public affairs campaigns at a PR firm. I was put to work as their “media monitor,” and it was my job to clip articles that their clients were featured or mentioned in. I also had a part time job at the UC Santa Barbara Davidson library that started at 1pm, and I could not be late. However, the media clipping took me a while to grasp, and I could not finish the work in the time given to me. I found myself stressed with deadlines daily, and that everyone around me was the same way. After coming home crying too many times, I decided to try working for a law firm instead.

Story #2: Working in a law firm. After I graduated from UC Santa Barbara, I started working in a local law firm. I was a receptionist and clerk, and wanted to see what it was like to work in a law office. I was also studying to take the LSAT exam at the time, and working part time in the UC Santa Barbara Davidson Library. What I remember most from that experience was how inferior some of the attorneys treated me. When I’d try to transfer calls to them, they would yell at me, telling me not to disturb them. I over heard another say I should be replaced because I couldn’t scan their “evidence” into the machine fast enough. And another told me that I would never make it as a lawyer. I had so many negative experiences there, I decided to try another field.

Story #3: Working in a Corporate Library. I applied to UCLA’s Information Studies program, and the following summer started working for Amgen’s corporate library. I was put on several projects to updates web sites, and create demo videos to teach scientists how to use the library databases. I enjoyed the energy of the business world, but found it was really challenging to make change happen in the company. They also didn’t have very much funding, which told me the company didn’t value the incredible work the library offered to the organization. This troubled me, and I really wanted to find work where the value of the work I was doing was evident.

I took a Human Computer Interaction class at UCLA, and learned how companies test products they make with customers first before releasing it. I learned how this research informed the design process, and helped make the product more user-friendly. The research was actually making a difference. I had been so frustrated in so many working environments, being treated as though my work was not making a difference, but it seemed like if I could work in Human-Computer Interaction, my work might actually mean something.

I started working as an intern at Citrix Online, and have loved working there ever since. The company truly values the customers, and is truly customer centric. I’m incredibly lucky, and grateful to have found a company like this.

The UX Ego – Non-violent Communication

Many times, I find that User Experience professionals have to debate and argue over their design decisions. They have to take full responsibility for mistakes or failures, and will do everything in their power to justify their actions. Whether they are designing an interface, a system, or the tasks for a usability study, they have to be able to defend why they made all the decisions they made.

What is interesting to me is how this debating permeates into other parts of the job. We find ourselves debating over why we scheduled a meeting, or over what the project plan will be. We are constantly in a state of debate, argument, and justification.

I find being in this state exhausting, ineffective, and inefficient. It is much like the “design by committee” situation, where there are too many stakeholders involved, and too many opinions to manage. I think a much more powerful way to approach issues, problems, or decisions is to bring understanding, and an ability to express ideals. Instead of fighting over what is the best approach, we really need to understand what the rationale is behind each others’ thoughts. Everyone’s thoughts are valuable, good, important, and deserve recognition. We may have this intention, but it certainly doesn’t come off this way.

We are all in this together, all fighting for the best for the user. We just need to play nicer with each other, encourage each other, and try to understand where each other is coming from. How do we do this? Well I think the message of non-violence might help us take a new perspective: