Archive — Design

The tipping point: Who is best placed to do strategic design?Anish Joshi

If you can bear another article about whether non-designers should get involved in design work, this isn’t a bad one.

Designers — if you think strategic design is a realm reserved just for you, I’m afraid not.

Other professionals — if you think you can just pick up strategic design like any other general skill, then I’m afraid not.

…the best and most effective use and impact for many people, is actually just to incorporate design thinking techniques into their day jobs.

I have long held the view that user experience is best thought of not as a role, but as a mindset. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for professional designers and user researchers — there absolutely is. But anyone can adopt the techniques and set off on the journey to become more user-centred.

We should encourage more people to do so.

Via Katie Murrie.

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Marry data science with user research — ethical design depends on itTony Ho Trandscout

Illustration of Ovetta Sampson

Why do unethical products keep being designed? According to Ovetta Sampson, it’s because of an unnecessary disconnect between user researchers and data scientists.

…it’s easier to say, “I’m just the engineer” or ”I’m just the numbers guy.” It allows us to divorce ourselves from the responsibility of what that data can do to people.

See also: ‘What’ means nothing unless you know ‘why’

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Why much of the internet is closed off to blind peopleJames JeffreyBBC News

Visually impaired person using the web

The most notable thing about this article is the sorry list of weak excuses offered up by businesses who can’t be bothered to make their websites accessible.

“…a blind person can always ring Domino’s toll-free number and order that way…”
Why should they have to?
“…there is no clear objective guidance on what constitutes an ‘accessible’ website.”
O rly?
“The online environment was never intended to be covered by the ADA…”
Says who?

How about just doing the basics that will help include your customers, and your fellow human beings?

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The flowSimon Wilson

Self-checkout machines may seem like an easy target for critcism. But there’s a really interesting point here about what happens when people get used to a new technology, their flow changes — but the technology hasn’t updated to adapt to people’s new behaviour.

Happens all the time — people are used to these things but the machines aren’t used to what the people now do. I am here to correct the machines.

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Understanding design better by looking from different levels of magnificationNicola DobieckaWebsite and Communications Blog

Screenshot from Powers of Ten showing a man having a picnic

My colleague Nicola Dobiecka wrote this brilliant blog post about how designers need to take different approaches depending on the level they are working at. It builds on Jared Spool’s analogy with Charles and Ray Eames’ classic film Powers of Ten.

Essentially, colleagues at different levels of the organisation have different perspectives. All valid, but all require different skills and processes.

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First click tests — building up the elements of user experience for Learn FoundationsWebsite and Communications Blog

First click heatmap

We had developed an information architecture and tree tests as part of our programme of user research for Learn Foundations. The next step was to use first click tests to pit the new template against existing courses.

The latest post in my series for the Website and Communications blog about our user research work around the University of Edinburgh’s virtual learning environment.

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The double diamond, 15 years on…Cat DrewDesign Council

It’s 15 years since the Design Council came up with the double diamond, a model of the design process.

I find it useful as a general guide, although it does seem to confuse many people who assume it to be a strictly linear process. Recent conversations I’ve had at both the Service Design Academy and work have shown me that it remains a challenge to truly convey the complexity of a design process, and that the double diamond may in fact hinder this.

As always, it’s about having the right approach and mindset, rather than expecting an off-the-shelf tool or model to fix all your problems. Cat Drew’s article points this out:

But following a toolkit does not equal designing a good solution to the right problem. It is as much about the mindsets as the tools (e.g. being humble and open to ideas coming from everywhere and changing as a result of feedback, curious about what’s really going on and how things are working or not and working as teams rather than as a lone genius).

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Note — 2019-09-02

I’m doing a couple of talks this week. They are both about the user research we’ve been doing for the Learn Foundations project.

This evening I will be presenting at the Edinburgh UX monthly meetup. It’s a friendly meetup and it’s free, so do come along if you’re interested.

Then on Wednesday I’ll be presenting with my colleagues Karen Howie and Paul Smyth at the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) Annual Conference.

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Author of Practical Empathy Indi Young on going deeper than insightsCarrie Neilldscout

Indi Young illustration

It’s always great to see advice from Indi Young. Here are tips on how to better identify and synthesise patterns in qualitative data.

…when you’re looking at data, don’t group things together by noun. Group them together by verb. I’ve done a lot of work with the healthcare industry, and one thing I often see research teams do is bring together insights that are all about a noun — here is all of the data that we got about how people feel about the doctors. But when you do that the intent behind what people are really saying ends up all over the place.

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The birth of InterCarmel DeAmicisFigma

Inter typeface detail

I’ve been using the Inter typeface on this blog (and other things) for 1½ years now.* I love it.

Rasmus [Andersson, the designer of Inter] did some research and experimentation and eventually realized there was no free, high-quality text typefaces for computer UIs. That felt backwards to him given how type heavy many UIs are. So he set to work creating one and released the first set of glyphs in August 2017. He’s been iterating on it continuously ever since.

What I really admire about Inter is the way it looks brilliant at both small sizes and large sizes. There really are not many typefaces you can say that about.

It also feels like it has genuinely been designed for our time, while seeming familiar like Helvetica or Univers. While those classics fall down somewhat as digital typefaces (no surprise given how old they are), Inter manages to improve on other digital-first typefaces like Roboto.

Incredibly, while Roboto has the might of Google behind it, Inter is one person’s side project. I have a lot of admiration for this project.

Now, if only it was available on Google Fonts

* Yes, that was just an excuse to use the ½ glyph.

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Card sorting has informed a new information architecture for Learn coursesWebsite and Communications Blog

Results of the card sorting study

How we used card sorting to help us devise a consistent information architecture for Learn VLE courses at the University of Edinburgh.

775 students participated in the study — and no two students submitted the same card sort. This highlights the great challenge faced by the Learn Foundations project in attempting to create a more standardised template that meets the wide variety of needs across the University.

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Creating the perfect UX workshop bag@kyecassUX Collective

✔️ Love stationery
✔️ Love workshops

This is a great guide to workshop essentials. I’m impressed that this kit contains a wider variety of materials, and yet seems so much smaller than the workshop bag we use at work. Maybe we rely too much on mountains of sticky notes!

I’d be tempted to add planning poker cards to this list. Planning poker is usually thought of as a technique for estimating work in agile projects. But it can also be used as a prioritisation technique in workshops.

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What is co-design?Kelly Ann McKercherBeyond Sticky Notes

Venn diagram describing co-production as an overlap of co-planning, co-design, co-evaluation and co-delivery

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about co-design recently (as well as doing some of it too). This website, Beyond Sticky Notes, has provided me with even more food for thought.

I am particularly struck by the table describing various approaches from transactional to transformational. In this model, “Anything ‘centred’ — human, user, patient etc.” is little better than “Designer as expert”. Meanwhile, what I thought of as co-design may actually be more like participatory design. There’s so much more to do.

But one line of warning is familiar to any good user experience practitioner, and is worth repeating until the cows come home.

Co-design builds long term commitment. By contrast, consultation often gives the illusion we’ve bought people on board — only to have them then fall overboard. With consultation, we pay later — often in costly, public and damaging ways.”

Make sure you also see Mindsets for co-design, another enlightening article on how to do co-design better.

This website is in support of a book due to be published in 2020. I am now looking forward to it.

Thanks to Alison Wright who retweeted the latter article and brought it to my attention.

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Top tasks surveys have identified what really matters to students using LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

Pie chart of students' top tasks in Learn

As part of our programme of user research in support of the Learn Foundations project, we have carried out a top tasks survey to understand what students need when accessing course materials online.

What we found was that students value three items much more than everything else. Those items are all to do with lectures.

See the full post to find out more.

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The elements of a better user experience in LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

The sketch that started it all

As part of the Learn Foundations project, we have carried out a programme of quantitative research to ensure a user-centred approach to solution development.

The Learn Foundations project team wanted to develop a new template using a user-centred approach. This template would be designed to introduce more consistency between different courses in Learn. But it also had to support a diverse variety of needs across different courses, supporting different schools, colleges and teaching needs. It also had to be developed quickly.

We took inspiration from a classic user experience diagram to ensure this new template could be built on firm foundations.

This post introduces the steps we took. Forthcoming posts will describe each step in more detail and some of our key findings.

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The return on investment of design-led changeDavid AyreFutureGov

How design can be used instead of traditional change management methods.

In the same way that design-led change isn’t just about hiring designers, it also shouldn’t be thought of as a specialist or localised resource (like a design team). Creativity and thinking about design as a state of mind is more a competence that should be part of the fabric of every 21st-century organisation.

My thinking on this has changed a lot over the years. In the past I might have thought that having a strong design team was the way forward. But that’s just creating another silo.

Now I see the real job as finding ways to empower the entire organisation to think like a designer, and help them make the right decisions for the right reasons.

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Interviews with students to understand users’ needs and contexts around LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

Foam board summarising insights from interviews with students

Summarising the key findings from a set of user interviews I conducted with students on their needs around accessing course materials digitally. Just one of the strands of the Learn Foundations project, which I still have much more to write about.

After analysing and synthesising the insights gathered through the interviews, we built up a picture of how and why students’ experience with Learn varies throughout the year as students attempt to complete different tasks. This is presented as a semester in the life of students using Learn.

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Comparing service design and business designBen Holliday

Business design can be very different to service design if it’s focused on the wrong things. But Ben Holliday notes:

Service design is business design when we focus on and care about designing for both internal staff and external user experience together as front and back stage of how a service works.

All too often business design is narrowly self-serving. If it’s not focused on ultimately improving things for your users or customers, it will do damage in the long run.

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Building a design team from scratch in a large and complex organisationSimon Dixon

I especially like the points this article makes about why design needs to go beyond digital.

Even though I have worked primarily in digital teams, I have always believed in making things better not just digital. In health especially, we need to remember that people are complex human beings in a whole variety of circumstances and not simply a collection of user needs.

More food for thought as I begin thinking more about how we need to move beyond individual user needs and design for something that goes beyond that.

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Encouraging self-service through improving content at the University of EdinburghLauren TormeyGatherContent

Diagram demonstrating process of continuous improvement

My awesome colleague Lauren Tormey wrote this blog post about a brilliant project she’s been involved in. She has been collaborating with our Information Services Helpline to reduce unnecessary support calls by iteratively improving content with a regular cycle of usability testing.

Over two summers, we had done work to improve content related to getting a student ID card. This was another case of turning long pages with giant paragraphs into concise step-by-step pages.

From July to September 2017, the IS Helpline received 433 enquires related to student cards. For this same period in 2018, they received 224, so the figure nearly halved. I repeat: halved.

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Scapegoating user experience designKhoi VinhSubtraction

Stylised photo of a Nest camera

An article published yesterday in The Washington Post demonstrates the danger of design’s failure to broaden popular understanding of our craft.

The article pinpoints Nest’s focus on reducing friction as the reason for their cameras’ weak security.

Khoi Vinh points out that…

…the concept of user experience writ large is not to blame here; what’s actually at fault is bad user experience practice.

The point being that good security is fundamental to good user experience. As any good designer would know, they are not in conflict. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It strikes me that Nest are using ‘reducing friction’ as a poor excuse for not implementing better security. I’m sure they’re not the only ones guilty of this.

On another point, this article got me thinking about journalism. Khoi Vinh refuses to blame the Washington Post’s perspective on “lazy journalism”, perhaps correctly.

But any time I read a mainstream/non-specialist journalist write about a topic I know a little about (motorsport, the web, whatever), I’m always astonished at how many basic errors are made. It’s a challenge if designers want the help of journalism when “explaining what it is that we do to the world at large.”

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User research into the needs of students and staff using LearnWebsite and Communications Blog

Me running a workshop for Learn Foundations

Since September, my main focus at work has been to carry out a comprehensive programme of user research for a project aiming to improve services surrounding Blackboard Learn, the University of Edinburgh’s main virtual learning environment.

I wrote this blog post providing a high-level overview of all the work that’s taken place this academic year. More detailed blog posts about each of the strands of research will come in due course.

This is been a brilliant project to be involved in. We’ve been given a lot of time and freedom to do large amount of research in support of one of the university’s most important digital services, used daily by most of our students, and many staff members.

We have made some really important discoveries. This work is ensuring that improvements are based on a strong understanding of users’ behaviour and needs when working with course materials digitally.

Check out this video, where I describe the work and some of the findings in a bit more detail, and keep an eye out for the forthcoming blog posts.

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Describing personasIndi YoungIndi’s Essays

Personas are one of the most popular techniques in the user experience toolkit, but they also remain among the most controversial. It is often still unclear to some what value personas can bring, and how to avoid the pitfalls of bad personas.

This article brings one of the clearest explanations I’ve seen of how to make good personas. It is a lengthy but must-read article if you make personas and want to make them work.

This article is particularly useful at explaining why obsessing over demographics is bad, and why you should instead focus on “thinking styles”.

Statements-of-fact, preferences, and demographics frequently serve as distracting barriers. They kick off all kinds of subconscious reactions in team members minds.

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How do we design for divergence and diversity if convergence is the goal?Alastair Somerville

Is convergence in design thinking problematic?

The problem I have with it is it models a form of Normality. You can diverge but, in the end, you must converge.

An interesting idea from Alastair Somerville. He explains his alternative design process:

Yes, there is a convergence to design a product that meets identified user needs. Yes, there are constraints around what can be made.

However, divergence is recognised through the process.

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Improving student experiences in Learn: usability testing showcase and workshopInformatics Learning Technology Service

Prioritised usability issues

My colleague Alex Burford from the University of Edinburgh School of Informatics has written this great blog post about some usability testing we have conducted in support of the Learn Foundations project.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Duncan Stephen on this mini project. The feedback was informative, encouraging, and a call to action. I’m looking forward to embedding similar practice across the School for alternative platforms for content delivery.

You can read my own reflections on this work at the Website and Communications team blog.

Each month we are working with a different school to conduct usability testing in Learn, the virtual learning environment, to inform improvements to the Learn service.

This is just one strand of a huge amount of user research I’ve been carrying out for the Learn Foundations project. It’s been a fascinating and very enjoyable project to work on. I’ve been pretty lax at writing about it yet — but I’ll be posting much more about it soon.

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People won’t stop staring at their phones, so a Dutch town put traffic lights on the groundNeha Thirani BagriQuartz

Experimental Dutch traffic crossing

An interesting experiment to place pedestrian crossing signals on the ground, “where everyone is already looking”. The Netherlands seems to be the place for experimental road safety design (see also: the squareabout).

This has got to be an improvement on the modern fad of placing pedestrian crossing signals at chest height to the side, where they simply get blocked by other people, rather than across the road where everyone can see it.

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Photo — 2019-03-20

People affinity mapping

I had a fabulous day at the Service Design Academy bootcamp yesterday.

It’s part of the PDA in Service Design. I never thought I’d be a student again. But I’m loving the opportunity to get stuck in and get talking to like-minded peers from other organisations.

It’s great to be back in Dundee again too! Looking forward to seeing what day two has in store.

Generating ideas

Generating ideas

Distilling our ideas

Distilling our ideas

View of V&A Dundee

The view from my hotel window

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The worst design of 2016 was also the most effective

Illustration of Donald Trump wearing a Make America Great Again hat

The worst design of 2016 was also the most effective — Diana Budds, Fast Company

Why Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again hat, was a wildly successful design, despite being reviled by gatekeepers of good-taste design.

The “undesigned” hat represented this everyman sensibility, while Hillary [Clinton]’s high-design branding — which was disciplined, systematic, and well-executed — embodied the establishment narrative that Trump railed against and that Middle America felt had failed them. “The DIY nature of the hat embodies the wares of a ‘self-made man’ and intentionally distances itself from well-established and unassailable high-design brand systems of Hillary and Obama,” Young says. “Tasteful design becomes suspect… The trucker cap is as American as apple pie and baseball.”

This reminds me of the story that the most “tasteful” office spaces are less productive. When given a clean-looking office cubicle, people fill it with garden gnomes.

I don’t agree with the article’s premise that this challenges the idea of design thinking. Surely it means that Hillary Clinton’s designers simply didn’t do a good enough job at it (because nice typefaces ≠ design thinking).

But this does provide a challenge to the received wisdom of what good design is, and whether tasteful design is desirable.

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