How to embed IA/UX with a party of one

“We’ve never had a UX person before. You’re the first permanent UX person here. What will you do? How will you do it? There’s only one of you.”

Oh shit? How do I bridge the gap between expectation and optimal practise? There are people involved. With people comes expectation and expectation management.

Having been in this new permanent person a few times, I always try to do my job, on the job. What’s she on about? Well, IA/UX – it’s all about the stakeholder and user and so, when I come into a new place (whether it’s had IA/UX or not) I always conduct 1:1 stakeholder/user (in this case the end is both) interviews across all departments to understand the situation and history, and their motivations, expectations and needs.

Having done this a few times, I’ve seen some similarities in what the end users understand to be IA/UX, the desire for formal processes (not always the solution mind!), their ways of working and immediate needs that need plugging and loving.

Here are my ‘in common’ observations and a culmination of 10 recommendations that need to happen to ensure quality IA, UX, product, service and work:

1. Identify production vs strategic projects

2. Put the original client brief on the table and get your experts (aka resources) input

3. Create amazing creative briefs by Planning and Client Services working together

4. Employ a true UCD approach by having pen portraits/personas attached to every brief

5. Identify and come up with a smart project approach and which UX/IA tools are to be employed (they can flex and change) with the PMs, the project team and Client Services

6. Support IA/UX mentoring and doing via the overall project approach and resourcing if you are the only IA/UX person

7. Put the users first (UCD) by usability testing – 1 day repeat corridor testing  as a bare minimum – as part and parcel of projects

8. Integrate tracking into projects at the requirements stage (vital at wireframe stage) and create tracking requirements and specification

9. Enforce collaborative and iterative wireframing as part and parcel of project plans

10. Ensure you never start a project without understanding the business objectives and KPIs

What should the IA/UX function look like?

Before we began to dissect the thing, we all needed to have a shared and common understanding of IA/UX, especially since the term gets used interchangeably.

Given how the craft has morphed over time in terms of label, role, skill and understanding and also given how our own industry wrestles over it’s definition, this would have been difficult had I not been such a firm believer (aka stubborn) that everyone is responsible for UX. IA deliverables and activities have become forms of UX deliverables and activities (this of course excludes the ‘generalist’ UX roles, where the job role seems to advertise for a one-man band).

It is always a challenge to address the widespread misconception that if you ‘do IA you produce wireframes’ which is perhaps best dealt with by explaining what a good wireframe is. Explain what a good wireframe tells you, what it shows and how it works as part of a collaborative process. Also explain how wireframing isn’t just knowing how to use Axure.

Wireframes are an end point deliverable. A result of working out the logic whilst keeping the creative concept in tact. Wireframes articulate the design of user behaviour and psychology, functionality and content, timeliness and relevance, validation and error handling, messaging, information and interaction priority, the nature of copy and instruction. Wireframes tell you how we can enable the user to do what we would hope they would so that we may meet our business objectives.

The wireframes are the end-result of an immerse, thorough and ‘what if’ thought and activity process.



Tactical vs Strategic IA/UX

There is a difference between production work where a PM or CS orchestrates ‘resources’ to get a usually routine, job done versus putting the client brief on the table and getting experts to come up with the best solution. This is a hard thing to do – not because it doesn’t make sense business-wise but because it requires a fundamental mind and perceived power shift – and to make it even more challenging, it needs to come from the top-down.

So what I do is work from the bottom-up. No one can argue with the numbers, so demonstrate ROI by a. increasing the efficiency and efficacy of projects and b. by helping meet KPIs through usability and experience design.

To conduct true strategic UCD, I advocate that every creative brief accompanied by a pen portrait (usually built on secondary quantitative research) or persona (built on primary qualitative research).

The little boxes in the corner on the sketches from hereon in,  show not only how difficult/hard the suggestions may be to implement but also the importance of implementing them, to the agency.



Different projects and briefs need different types of IA/UX

There isn’t a one-size fits all approach to servicing a project or brief with the necessary IA/UX attention it deserves. Each should be individually assessed in the context of time, budget, requirements and resource. The activities/deliverables chosen from the IA/UX tool box will also form the back bone of the overall project approach.



Usability testing as part of projects

Usability testing is not UAT or user testing. Usability testing looks at the non-functional, behavioural and psychological actions of a user, which is often unexpected whereas the latter looks at the functional behaviour of the system and whether it is behaving as it ought to.

Usability testing is always the first to go, most neglected and wrongly considered luxury on every project I have come across. Ironically, usability testing is the thing that makes or breaks a system – it is the difference between users using, understanding and enjoying the system – a positive UX and the users walking away with a negative experience.

At the very least, conduct corridor tests with a minimum of 5 users who approximate the target user (not always possible) but at least you’ll uncover fundamental usability, interaction, copy and messaging issues.

This doesn’t have to take long or be arduous. Four hours should cover 5 x 1:1 usability testing with findings & recommendations. Surely that’s not bad ROI for the bigger picture?



Create tracking specs to understand and measure success reflective of KPIs

There is no point implementing tracking tags if you’re not going to do anything with them. That’s not tracking. They need to be monitored, reported, evaluated and optimised on in order to be of value to the agency and importantly to the client who has to justify spend and CPA. Oh and please don’t forget to budget for the time and effort it takes to action any optimisation.





Hashtag recruit, fun size furniture designers & streaming music

1] Forget the word doc, a hashtag battle to hire new talent for an ad agency

From fast Company

 2] Kids become industrial furniture designers
“At what age can kids understand and benefit from learning how the design process works?
New York industrial design firm Aruliden and the North Carolina furniture firm Bernhardt Design set up Tools for School.
The idea: teach eighth graders how industrial designers work, and turn them loose to try the process for themselves by designing furniture for the classroom of the future.
The kids astonished the designers, their teachers, and themselves, with their ability to grasp the concepts and the process, and brainstorm some truly innovative improvements on the neglected category of school furniture.

In fact, the ideas were so good that Aruliden synthesized them, and turned them into professional renderings. Bernhardt will take the project one step further by manufacturing prototypes, and showcasing them in its booth at ICFF in May.”

Also from fast Company

 3] Soundtrckroffers listeners unlimited streaming access to 10 million songs on web, mobile and soon TV
“Plus, Soundtrckr has social and local components on lockdown — you can listen to the “stations” of friends or people nearby. And it costs nothing. No subscription fees, no mobile surcharge, no ads, nada. So, where’s the catch?
Soundtrckr takes the similar artist, algorithmic playlist selection model that Pandora uses and has song skip limitations, so it’s not of Spotify’s or Rdio’s on-demand ilk.”
From Mashable

And a handy mobile usage and socialisation by numbers, info graphic from Kelly:

Have a very fulfilling weekend and if you’ve never been to a car wash of the big blue or yellow roller brush variety – then make sure you do. You have no idea what you’re missing out on! J

How Agile rolls on the UCD turf

I know, I know…you’ve heard it all before. And yeah, yeah, we’ve all worked in an faux-agile stylee. Not strictly agile, just in the style of; a version of an iterative approach if you will. Having said that, we also, ashamedly, find ourselves working in a faux-UCD fashion usual as a result of tight project turn around times; if the user’s aren’t involved, it doesn’t countJ 

 Before I start going on about a smarter UCD approach and get caught up in semantics, let me remain on the subject at hand: How can you design for and with the user when working in an Agile project environment?
The general feeling from those I’ve spoken with in and across the industry seems to be that true to its roots, agile works wonders for development (amazingly if done by the book I would assume)
On the other hand, for those trying to tred water with high agility in the strategic, planning, IA and design pool, the general feeling here is that rapid development doesn’t equal rapid thinking.

The tug ‘o’ war between design and development is nothing new and we kinda get by; but now throw in a desire to still adhere to a UCD approach – putting the users at the centre of the design and build process within an agile approach and what have you got? Not only now do you have team roles differing in the way in which they need to work (thinking upfront and doing and finding out) but you also have on one hand an approach that seeks to use behaviour to inform the product and another approach that seeks to design, build and learn in the most efficient way possible.

This doesn’t mean that one is wrong and that the other is right – they just come at the challenge from different angles. It means that we should create a way of working that supports the two approaches; by embedding the two approaches within one another, we create a UCD-Agile approach that is neither a pure agile approach nor is it a pure UCD approach.
We can flex and extend the pure agile way of working into the strategic UCD way of working and vice versa; we extrapolate the UCD mindset all the way into agile development. The highest concentration of the combination of the two practises is clearly demonstrated in the multiple rounds of iterative prototyping and testing. In this way we can reconcile the two different approach angles to meet on delivering a user-centred designed product delivered in the most efficient and effective way.

One folly, not unique to UCD-Agile but one which has a hard hitting ramification for is not accounting time for getting up to speed, researching and understanding the product, the business, its competitors and the environment. This must happen first.

Strategic UCD activities that help to create a solid UCD foundation for Agile includes:
1] Everyone on board with the strategy and business objectives
2] Understanding stakeholder requirements and turning these into user stories
3] Understanding user behaviour and articulation of those user via personas
4] Determining user needs and requirements via conceptual and logical scenarios and turning these into user stories
5] Capturing and feeding in tracking, AB/MV testing and SEO requirements
6] Prioritising user stories based on business objectives, technical feasibility and the user

Efficient and effective Agile activities that support UCD through Agile includes:
1] Design and IA always involved in build and working with user stories – the more granular you get, the more you run the risk of being further removed leading to the undesirable outcome of only an agile sub-set of team members focussed on user stories and the remainder focussed on asset production
2] Do not dissociate client and user feedback from the user stories – otherwise it becomes an exercise in responding rather than developing; we need thoughtful optimisation through iteration
3] Have appropriate sprint lengths – not too small so that design and IA becomes reactionary in its iteration and looses touch with the user stories but not long so that the project loses momentum
4] Usability testing with real end users throughout key iterations

Agile is renowned for its minimal documentation stance; but it is just that – minimal. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to write things down because Agile believes that the team members are all clairvoyant or that they will never ever leave the team; rather Agile encourages high ROI documentation practises such as keeping live documents, updating only when nothing else will do and simple, function over form documentation.

In amongst the high ROI documentation types is a high level project plan. It seems to be a common misunderstanding that because Agile encourages such high and intense levels of collaboration, that the team, by working together so closely will determine their deliverables as they go. This is true, the team will determine their deliverables as they go however they still need to know where they are going, the high level steps to get there and timings.

In the absence of a high level plan, and especially if the UCD part of the UCD-Agile approach is bypassed, the team is just making it up – making up what the system should do and how it should work against their interpretations of what they think is important, and for when. Whilst there’s a lot to be said for wisdom of the crowds, launching the entire team straight into the Agile part comes with all the risks associated with not understanding the business, users and context – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
One could argue that the conditions of a constantly iterative and high collaborative project environment, having a plan to know where you are going, for when and how to manage the team is a must.

Because you see collaboration is not a project methodology nor is it a project plan; it is something that happens as a result of working on a project – a behaviour; a way of working. Collaboration happens when 2 or more people are working together to achieve a common goal; even the waterfall project methodology is collaborative albeit to a different degree for Agile does pull an often larger number of team members in and more often.

A UCD-Agile project approach? Nothing new you say? I know.
Everything I’ve just said has already been said a million times before? I know.
Retrospect really is a wonderful thing? I know:)



A selection of PM tools for Agencies

A couple of months ago, I met with Client Services and Project Management (PM) to discuss the consideration of potential PM tools that would help improve efficiency and efficacy of the agency-client relationship that is borne and concreted upon as we work on our our client projects.

I started by identifying the pain points that client services and project management felt existed throughout the life cycle of a project; these included:

1] Documentation and version control between client-agency too-ing and fro-ing
2] Multiple rounds of feedback and drip-fed feedback
3] Sign off to allow progression from one project stage to the next – internal and external
4] Expectation management as a consequence of visuals/scamps/ideas
5] Reference back to verbal conversations/feedback/requirements – he said, she said syndrome
6] Awareness and sensitivity of client reputation

Due to the nature of agencies and the way in which they work, our needs are different from the needs of larger, somewhat corporate companies who tend to use massive solutions such asMicrosoft Project, Matchware MindView, Project Kickstart, RationalPlan Multi Project and Basecamp.

But based on the pain points identified, I had a trawl and found a collection of PM tools currently on the market that may be suitable for an agency such as ours; these include:

1] PBworks Introduces Agency Edition for Advertising, PR, Marketing, and Design Agencies

“Agencies can use PBworks Agency Edition to:
Create a social environment for internal teams and external clients to collaborate more creatively

Manage complex client projects by coordinating activities and providing greater transparency to clients and management
Connect a geographically distributed team with shared online workspaces, integrated chat, and web-based conference calling
Enable a repeatable creative process by standardizing processes and workflows
Maintain a searchable knowledgebase of past work and best practice
Control access and privacy settings on per page/file/video basis and change them as needed during the course of the project”

2] Workamajig®
“…understands the creative firm. Not that we walk around the office without our shoes on kind of understanding. No. More like understanding that traffic wants seamless web-based project management, account service needs templates for quicker job setups, accounting longs for easy-to-find electronic statements and creatives, well, they just need to do their web-based timesheets and expense reports. And that’s why we developed Workamajig®, the leading web-based project management software for the creative design industry. By the way, did we mention we were 100% Mac Friendly?
What is it?
As web-based job tracking and integrated project management software, Workamajig® streamlines entire ad agencies and creative firms, from new business and sales leads to staffing and creative execution, and all the way through a project’s cycle to accounting and financial reporting. It makes your business make sense.

Who is it for?
Anyone that does anything in a creative ad agency or creative firm, in-house marketing department or group. Or even an aggregate, for those that are fancy or in reach of a thesaurus. Since Workamajig® is customizable for different companies and those companies different employees and tasks, it becomes the perfect project management solution.”

3] Designed for the advertising, interactive and design industries, Streamtime
“…enables complete traffic and production management, signaling an end to job bags and hand-generated invoices and timesheets.
From the accounts team to designers, both at their desk and, using Streamtime’s iPhone application, on the road, Streamtime maximises workflow, taking productivity and creativity to new levels…”

4] Synergist has been developed as a complete job bag system for creative agencies
“Whether you’re a design agency, advertising agency, pr agency or full service agency, Synergist offers the functionality you need in a modern interface that can be accessed by Mac, PC or Web Browser.
Synergist is a proven agency software solution for improving the efficiency with which you handle all day to day activities including enquiries, estimating, timesheets, purchasing, expenses, billing and reporting. In addition the CRM functionality automates the creation and capture of all client communications including email, giving you a single repository for all job / client related information.
Our experience in the design agency / marcoms environment goes back over 15 years giving us extensive knowledge of agency software implementations. Client feedback from over 10,000 creative users ensures Synergist has the proven features you require to manage your jobs efficiently, whilst leaving you time to focus on creativity. “ 

5] Useful PM tools lists

Mish mash smorgasboard: virtual popstars, mobiles in meetings & sketchnoting

1] Courtesy of Aaron Saenz’s article :“Created by Crypton Future Media,…
…Hatsune Miku is a virtual singing avatar that you can purchase for your PC and program to play any song you create. She and her virtual colleagues have gone on limited tours in Japan and virtual avatar song writing is a growing trend all over the world.

2] How to run a meeting = interesting & food for thought
The rule is for everyone in the room: if their attention is elsewhere, they aren’t listening. Frank, the guy who plays Plants vs. Zombies during staff and swears he’s listening? He’s not. He’s getting 50% of what’s being said, and worse, he’s giving everyone else in the room permission to slack.

3] Eva-Lotta Lamm has been promoting sketchnoting for quite a while now
Here is her latest deck Sketchnotes / Visual Note Taking from WebExpo Prague 2010

And one for luck: why Connected TVs Will Be About the Content, Not the Apps from Jeremy Toeman
“We’re starting to see a lot of energy focused on “apps on your TV.” Right now, wired TVs and Wi-Fi enabled Blu-ray players come equipped with everything from YouTube to TED Talks to Pandora to Twitter. When it comes to video and music apps (entertainment), the value proposition is clear: more content on my TV. But what’s the value of non-entertainment apps? And how can the device makers communicate that value?”

The good thing about colder weather is that the sky is much more blue and you can see for miles! More here, and also some fashionable advice about what you should wear to be warm and some star gazing pointersJ