Archive — Design
Have you ever participated in a user engagement session designed for you to share your views, but felt that you weren’t properly included, or that your views wouldn’t be acted on? Fed up with bad surveys and poorly planned focus groups?
Most of us want to engage with our users and stakeholders. We all want to make sure our users have a voice in projects that will affect them. But the approach you take can have a major effect on the success or failure of your engagement.
There are some basic truths about human behaviour that we know from psychology and other social sciences. But in many projects, these basic truths tend to be ignored.
Read this post on my team’s blog for tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of poorly planned user engagement, and how to make user research effective.
The second of my two posts on my work team’s blog about UCD Gathering, the remote conference I attended in October.
This blog post covers the third theme I wanted to highlight: how we can better demonstrate the business impact of human-centred approaches.
Back in October, I had the opportunity to attend the UCD Gathering conference, a new virtual event for practitioners of user-centred design in all its forms. Over on my work blog, I have published the first of two posts reflecting on what I learned.
This first post covers two themes:
- Being aware of bias, and other cognitive considerations
- Improving readability of content
The post also mentions my own session at the conference, about our user research into the needs of staff and students working with course materials online. The Learn Foundations project has proved fortuitous in that it has helped schools move their teaching online and prepare for hybrid teaching in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
I will be speaking at next week’s UX Glasgow meetup. This month it is a service design special, coinciding with Services Week.
My presentation will be based on my blog post Service design and the Mario complex, exploring the similarities and differences between user experience and service design.
It’s part of a bumper line-up of speakers, including sessions about the Scottish Approach to Service Design, some excellent research into the service design community in Scotland, and a student project imagining the future of Glasgow.
It’s a ticketed virtual event, so sign up to be part of what should be a brilliant session.
Last month our brilliant colleague Lizzie Cass-Maran left our team after more than 10 years. In her final blog post for our team’s blog, she has written this plea to keep humans at the centre of all our decision-making.
For the past few years I’ve been working with Lizzie, I’ve always been impressed at the impact and quality of the work she has delivered in often challenging circumstances. She is a key reason why Website and Communications has such a strong user-centred culture.
Moreover, her impact stretched far beyond our own team. She influenced human-centred approaches across the entire university. She has played a genuinely leading role in our communities of practice. The effective digital content training that she has designed ensures that our content editors will continue to create well-written content that meets users’ needs.
Most recently, she did most of the heavy lifting in a project to revolutionise the university’s editorial style guide. The outcome of this is that, for the first time, we have a unified style guide that is designed for use across all content, print and digital, being managed across organisational silos.
Our team genuinely will not be the same without her.
This interview with the civic tech leader Cyd Harrell covers interesting ground around user experience, including:
- the differences between the public and private sectors
- making privacy a priority
- avoiding “attention theft”, where we bombard users with more and more notifications
Here’s another post I published to my team’s blog over the summer and forgot to link to from here.
Back in June, I ran an experiment in mass remote collaboration at our Web Publishing Community. This was, of course, at the height of lockdown, as we were adapting to the new reality of a prolonged period of working from home.
I’d come away from the Service Design in Government conference in March really keen to try out liberating structures, following an excellent session run by Open Change.
Liberating structures is a set of workshop tools designed to include everyone and generate innovative ideas. These are ideally carried out with people who are physically together, so it was a little awkward when I wanted to try them out just at the moment everyone was required to be physically apart.
But some liberating structures are possible to run remotely, so I decided to introduce a large number of colleagues to a foundational liberating structure — 1-2-4-all.
Through this session, we collaboratively sifted through ideas generated by over 40 participants, before coming to a consensus on the one strongest idea.
An analysis of the design of postal voting materials in the US.
Where are all the UX designers and researchers, service designers, and content writers and editors when voting process and materials are designed? Not there or simply beaten by bureaucracy or deadlines?
A good reminder that user experience goes way beyond technology and even design. It’s about the small decisions that are made by everyone involved in a process, that if made badly can prevent people getting fundamental stuff done.
I realised that while the summer got pretty busy for us, there are a few work blog posts that I haven’t cross-posted here yet. So I will drip-feed them here over the next little while.
This first one is from July, where I outlined some of the lessons we have been learning from getting collaborative activities done remotely. This post also highlights some of the work my colleagues have been doing to continue our user experience work despite the challenges presented by the coronavirus outbreak.
This was a follow-up to an earlier blog post, Meeting the challenges of conducting user research remotely.
The rumours were true — Changing Rooms is coming back, 20 years on from its heyday. I don’t really remember watching it very much, but I have been struck by how much people have been talking about it recently.
The TV show clearly struck a chord. And why not, when you can reminisce about stories like the prized £6,000 teapot collection that was destroyed by one of the programme’s ludicrous interior design ideas?
What I love about this story is the stiff upper lip displayed by the victim of this design disaster, which is really a paper-thin disguise for seething anger that brings out a gem of a quote like this:
“I still feel that she’s got what she deserved, which is really being dropped by everybody,” Clodagh says of Linda Barker [the interior designer]. “I still don’t feel very good about her. On the very rare occasion she’s on television now, when I do see her, she’s still very bouncy, and I just don’t think she earned the bounce,” she laughs.
So. Much. Shade.
Tomatoes are a bit of an ontological mess.
Why information architecture is difficult, explained by tomatoes — and not just the fruit/vegetable thing you might already be thinking.
Keep an eye on this impressive blog. Join Helen Wiles and explore the world of user experience.
This blog is quite new, but already there are brilliant articles on topics like:
- Recruiting a representative sample of participants
- Conducting remote usability testing
- The difference between empathy and sympathy
They are all written in a very accessible and creative way, making it an enjoyable read.
One thing I have noticed from working in UX is that the concept of user experience itself isn’t exactly the most usable… as most people don’t even know what it is! So, I’m trying to create a space where I can give useful advice and tell stories that help to make it more accessible for everyone, as I think it’s so important.
My colleague Stewart Lamb Cromar has written about how a recent deterioration in his vision has impacted his work, and highlights the importance of our ongoing work around accessibility.
A fun analysis of the world’s banknotes, their colours and contents: who and what features on them, and where.
A write-up of a brilliant talk Jo Arthur gave at this month’s UX Glasgow event, where she outlined how the National Lottery Heritage Fund analyse user research remotely. I found it super useful, not least because this is exactly what we need to do at my work right now, and I have taken a lot of inspiration from this. Thanks Jo!
A beautiful set of diagrams documenting the designs of parliamentary halls from across the world.
A delightfully geeky breakdown of how a London bus stop is designed and built. It got me thinking of design systems.
This case study would be seen by some as a reason not to understand users at all. “If I asked users what they wanted, they’d say faster horses. Hurr hurr.”
In fact, like the idea of faster horses, it demonstrates how important it is to understand your users in the right way, not just pay lip service to doing so.
Badly-designed user research leads respondents to certain responses. This is often unintentional — avoiding bias is difficult.
Sometimes it’s intentional. Perhaps the survey designer has a pet idea. They might (subconsciously) skew the questions in a certain way to get the answers they want.
A classic example is asking someone if they would like a certain feature to be added to a product. The answer is almost always: “Er, yes, I suppose so.” People think they like choice, so more features sounds good. But in reality, too many features — or too much choice — leads to choice paralysis and greater frustration.
The lesson isn’t to ignore user research. But be aware of your biases. Be wary of surveys as a methodology. And don’t simply ask people what they want. Instead, understand what they do, and why they do it.
This piece really challenged my thinking.
In my job I am currently trying to figure out ways to make quality user research scale across the organisation in a sustainable manner. It’s like one of those triangular diagrams outlining three goals: “you can have two of these things”.
Working in such a large organisation, central resources inevitably have their limits. My desire is to empower others to carry out their own user research. Our role becomes an education role. How we do that remains an unsolved problem. Various attempts have yielded variable results.
But Saswati Saha Mitra, reflecting on her experiences of trying to democratise user research, suggests that it is a bad idea.
A researcher is a dynamic thinker who has to adapt their methods and questions based on who is in front of them, how much they have already learnt and what new areas could be probed on. This did not happen. We got a lot of verbatim and videos which after a point became repetitive and did not add more to the analysis. This then led to analysis paralysis.
I’m inclined to continue trying to empower others to conduct user research. But this article is food for thought.
The University of Edinburgh Website and Communications team is hiring a Senior Content Designer. Come and join my team!
If you’re passionate about using evidence-based approaches to create great content that meets users’ needs, we want to hear from you.
Read the blog post to learn more about the position and how to apply.
What makes a good principle? How do you avoid principles that are mere motherhood and apple pie? According to Jeremy Keith, it’s all about establishing priorities.
He goes on to outline the danger of prioritising the experience of developers or designers above the user experience. He makes an interesting observation about a perceived difference in the way developers, er, develop and the way designers do.
Developer efficiency is prized above all else. Like I said, that would be absolutely fine if we’re talking about technologies that only developers are exposed to, but as soon as we’re talking about shipping those technologies over the network to end users, it’s negligent to continue to prioritise the developer experience…
I’ve been talking about developers here, but this is something that applies just as much to designers. But I feel like designers go through that priority shift fairly early in their career. At the outset, they’re eager to make their mark and prove themselves. As they grow and realise that it’s not about them, they understand that the most appropriate solution for the user is what matters, even if that’s a “boring” tried-and-tested pattern that isn’t going to wow any fellow designers.
The coronavirus outbreak has posed massive challenges for everyone in society. For practitioners of human-centred approaches to design, where face-to-face interaction is often so important to enhancing our understanding, our current requirement to maintain social distancing creates obvious barriers.
However, this doesn’t mean our work to ensure we’re meeting people’s needs has to stop. In fact, there are some perhaps surprising advantages to working remotely as a user experience practitioner.
Over on my team’s blog, I have outlined some of what I’ve learned about remote user research over the past month or so.
What’s worse than design by committee? Design system by committee.
Talk about designers “having a seat at the table” generally leaves me cold. But this useful article explains why it can matter — but why designers have a duty to do more than simply be at the table.
Evidence has long suggested that companies with a strong design focus are more successful. The example of Logitech outlined here bears that out.
But if some CEOs don’t understand the value of design, it’s up to designers to articulate it properly.
The Gov.UK Design System team have discovered that using the HTML element
<input type="number"> creates some surprising problems in certain environments.
Some of the limitations in assistive technologies such as Dragon Naturally Speaking are disappointing but unsurprising.
But Chrome deciding to convert large numbers to exponential notation is rather more eyebrow-raising. Then there is Safari adding commas to long numbers that are in fact credit card numbers. You have to wonder about some of the decision-making among browser vendors.
A short list of surprisingly common things people ask users to do during a usability test — and what you should do instead.
Not mentioned in this list is the idea that you can ask people just to tell you what they think of the website generally.
The golden rule is: “Try to simulate reality”.
A fascinating history of messaging from 1996’s ICQ to the present day. It details how a series of seemingly minor design decisions have had massive privacy implications and ultimately transformed how humans communicate.
The perils of using an overly-familiar tone of voice in your copy. There are some cracking examples here of support content that prioritises daft quips over getting to the point.
You’ve ordered a package and you want to know how long delivery will take. It’s a straight forward question, so you would expect to find out quickly and easily. What you don’t need is a couple lines of heavily branded content standing between you and your answer. You just want to know how long the delivery will take…
Users are task-led and time-poor.
Come and work with our team!
We are looking for three experienced Content Designers to join the University of Edinburgh’s Website and Communications team as we embark on major projects to launch our new web publishing platform and services.
If you’re passionate about using evidence-based approaches to create great content that meets users’ needs, we want to hear from you.
There are three positions available. Find out more in the blog post. If you have any questions, just get in touch with me.
For my personal view on what it’s like working with the University of Edinburgh, check out my previous blog post: Why I value working in user experience in higher education.
This is possibly the best explanation I’ve seen of how to conduct user research interviews. This framework could be given to almost everyone, and they would be on their way to conducting good interviews.
It includes a very useful diagram outlining how to structure the interview — when to be open, and when to narrow down.
Why a design system should not be thought of as a Thing like a style guide, but in fact is all about building a community.
I have to tell you: a lot of the time that I’m working in design systems, I’m not even touching a design tool. Or coding. Rather, it’s a lot of people-focused work: Reviewing. Advising. Organizing. Coordinating. Triaging. Educating. Supporting. That’s a lot of invisible systems work right there.
An exploration of the similarities and differences between journalism and design, and how the two disciplines can support each other.
Like journalists, designers research human behaviour, through interview and observation, in an attempt to understand complex problems…
But where journalists focus on content, designers focus on experience — what and who the content is for, how it’s delivered, and how behaviour may change as a result. And where journalists synthesise these insights to tell stories, designers push into making solutions.
This must be the most spurious “road safety” feature ever conceived.
A Dutch town decided to install rumble strips that are set at certain frequencies so that cars “play” the regional anthem as they drive over them.
This article focuses on the fact that this feature is driving residents crazy as they repeatedly have to hear this raspy version of the same melody all day (and night) long.
But surely the spurious justification is more deserving of ire.
Local officials hoped the strips would encourage drivers to stick to the speed limit.
Because, apparently, the melody would only play when drivers are driving at the right speed. Except, as officials concede later in the article, that’s not even true. If you drive at a different speed, the melody still plays — just at a different speed. Perhaps drivers may even speed up just to end the din more quickly.
What a terrible idea!
This article also contains a brilliant video from Tom Scott demonstrating an even more disastrous version of the same idea, in California.
A useful guide for those of us trying to push user research forward in our organisations.
Balwearie High School opening (BBC archive)
This video is apparently footage from a 1964 BBC interview from the opening of my old high school, Balwearie in Kirkcaldy. It’s fascinating to see how much of it looked exactly the same when I went to school between 1998 and 2004 — and how much of it was totally different.
For example, it is a revelation to see what the roof was originally like. The attractive and useful rooftop garden and astronomical equipment was gone, replaced with a plain felt roof with a haphazard walkway of paving slabs.
The school was also about twice as big by the time I went there. No-one confused it for a luxury hotel. But then again, that’s what 30 years will do to a building.
I wonder what it’s like now, 20 more years on.
Via Rich Gordon
How do you make participation in workshops and training sessions as accessible as possible? My colleague Lizzie Cass-Maran has created these low-tech voting cards (using letters, colours and shapes to include as many people as possible) that are easy to make yourself — and a lot less fiddly than some of the technology solutions out there.
Town planners in the mid-20th century faced a big problem. The advent of the motor car brought increased congestion and safety risks. Planners wrongly thought that separating pedestrians and vehicles on different levels was the solution. If you know where to look, you can still see remnants of this thinking. Read full articleComment
It is human nature to add things, making them more complex. This feels like you’re doing something, but actually you’re probably making the situation worse.
We see this in web design. People like adding pages to their websites because it feels productive. But actually, the most effective websites are the ones with fewer, simpler pages.
The same can be true for any design, including the way we structure our work.
We often anchor around the wrong thing. That’s why some big institutions have no chance — they are hit by random plans and transformations rather than anchoring around purpose and iteration.