Archive — Work
I have been interviewed for the podcast UX Soup. The host Chris Schreiner was interested in the User Experience Service’s work at the University of Edinburgh. He spoke with me about:
- how the consultancy model works in a higher education context
- the history of our service
- the projects we get involved with
- the methodologies we follow
- the specific challenges we face working in higher education
It was good fun being interviewed. Please have a listen if you have the time. Thank you to Chris for the opportunity.
Note — 2022-01-05
I return to work regularly today for the first time in almost 25 weeks.
This was longer than anticipated. My planned parental leave was forcibly extended due to my ankle injury. It was further complicated by my tricky recovery. I have more to say about all of that another day.
I approach today with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Balancing work with looking after a one-year-old is a whole new normal. For me at least, it makes the changes in working practices due to coronavirus seem small.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo — 2020-02-07
Perks of the job. Today I had a short impromptu tour of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh on a crisp sunny winter’s morning.
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.
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.
The session will outline the comprehensive programme of user research the University of Edinburgh’s User Experience Service conducted on behalf of the Learn Foundations project. It will show how, as the project went along, we adopted a service design approach in order to better meet the needs of both students and staff. Read full article1 comment
Note — 2019-11-22
We’re looking for a University of Edinburgh PhD student intern to work with us next year. This is an exciting time to join the Website and Communications team, and an opportunity to help us improve high-profile web services like MyEd and the University website. Take a look!
Note — 2019-11-14
Duncan’s talk will take us through how the University of Edinburgh’s User Experience Service has undertaken a comprehensive programme of user research supporting a project aimed at improving students’ experience accessing course materials digitally. Find out how they developed a programme of multiple user research methods to understand what students really need.
Time: Wednesday 4 December
Venue: Amazon Development Centre, 2–4 Waterloo Place, Edinburgh
Maybe see you there?
My final blog post about our user research for the Learn Foundations project, outlining how our service design approach has left the University of Edinburgh in a stronger position to understand how we can really improve services for students.
As part of our comprehensive programme of user research in support of the Learn Foundations project, the User Experience Service has conducted contextual enquiry to better understand the contexts and needs of staff members working with Learn. This blog post summarises our findings.
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.
Here’s what happened when we ran usability testing with staff members using Learn for the first time. From four videos we found 20 usability issues, and a wide variety of strategies to complete the same basic tasks.
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.
Slides from my Edinburgh UX meetup talk on Monday 2 September 2019, about the user research we have been conducting around the needs of students and staff working with course materials digitally at the University of Edinburgh. See the more detailed blog posts about this project over at the Website and Communications team blog. Read full article1 comment
This year I have had the fantastic opportunity to study with the Service Design Academy. This intensive course in service design has given me hands-on experience in new techniques. This blog post summarises my experience.
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.
After completing the top tasks survey and the card sort as part of the Learn Foundations project, our next step was to create a prototype information architecture and test it.
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.
It has been found that having a conscientious spouse helps lead to an increase in income, number of promotions and job satisfaction. Why?
First, conscientious spouses handle a lot of household tasks, freeing employees to concentrate on work (“When you can depend on someone, it takes pressure off of you,” Solomon told me).
Or, put another way, if someone else is doing all the dirty work at home, it gives you the privilege to focus on your career.
I wonder if there’s research to say what the effect is if both people in a relationship share household duties equally. Hopefully if both partners are conscientious, both feel the benefits in their careers.
Support each other. Teamwork! 🐌🐢
You can support your spouse in supporting you. If you depend on his or her reliability, diligence, and goal orientation, don’t take those traits for granted. Maybe you’ve been standing heroically at the bow for so long that you’ve forgotten how much effort it takes to row. So sit down and row for a while.
✔️ 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.
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.
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.
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.
An interview with Khoi Vinh on the benefits of blogging.
Blogging has always been pivotal to my career. When I was offered my first ‘proper’ job as a web editor at the University of St Andrews, I only really had my blog to speak for. Yet it was enough to get my name out there, and to enable me to develop web skills.
Since then, I’ve had less and less spare time. Now it’s a huge challenge to find the space for myself to blog.
I’d done well last year by publishing something every day. But recently I fell off the wagon. So this line from Khoi Vinh’s interview stood out to me:
I think you’ve just got to do it consistently, repeatedly, and you’ve got to be undeterred by the time it requires and the inconvenience in your life that it generates.
I’ll try to be more tolerant of that inconvenience. It will probably pay off in some way I can’t imagine just now, like it did 10 years ago.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo — 2019-03-20
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.
Note — 2019-01-06
It’s 10 years since Woolworths closed down. I worked there at the time. To this day, the whole experience is among the most surreal of my life.
At the time, I wrote a lengthy series of blog posts detailing my own story of the goings-on around the failure of one of Britain’s most iconic businesses.
Being on the shop floor while a British institution collapsed around me taught me a bit about business. But it taught me a lot about people. Enjoy this look back.
(These used to be linked to each other using a WordPress plugin, but these were lost during a migration — so here they all are.)
- Woolworths: The curiously British US-based company
- Woolworths as it was known and loved, and neglected
- Woolworths: Childhood memories and adult gripes
- It wasn’t just the credit crunch
- The blunder of Woolworths
- Identity crisis
- The beginning of the end
- The nasty side of human nature
- Woolworths: Final thoughts and wrapping up
For more on Woolworths 10 years on from its collapse, check out Graham Soult’s excellent report.
UX your life: Applying the user-centered process to your life (and stuff) — JD Jordan, Smashing Magazine
I’m always in two minds about whether people should use work-based techniques on personal problems. I have heard of people using Trello boards at home to organise tasks, which sounds as nightmarish as it sounds sensible. I’ve even heard of people running scrum-style weekly planning meetings with their family, which definitely sounds overboard to me.
But I do like the look of some of the ideas here. For instance, I’m keen to map out out my life in weeks.
And I already know that affinity mapping can work great at home and for other stuff.
When we did the MoRun in November, Lauren and I made an affinity map to decide which of two runs to enter. My gut feeling told me another run would be better. But writing down all the pros and cons of each race, and grouping them, made it clear that my gut feeling was actually wide of the mark.