Wrenches and hammers

Tools
Tools by fissionchips (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Per Axbom’s tweet, written in frustration about digital often seen as the answer to everything, stirred a range of emotions in me. On the one hand, I was quick to agree with the statement, thinking about how  commonplace the digital tools have become in our daily lives. They’ve become so mundane and we have become so accustomed to them, that we’ve started appreciating the tools more than what they help us accomplish or who they enable us to be.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help thinking how the technological achievements of the relatively short period of time would not have been possible, if someone somewhere didn’t go, “I wonder how I can eliminate the imperfections that physical things limit me to?” and didn’t think of making ones and zeros do the job for them.

We arrive at lasting change, when we aren’t satisfied with the existing order. In our heads, problems require solution. In our attempts at finding it, we tend to focus more on the nature of the solution rather than the problem. I believe that, in part, the technological advancements are to blame for it.

It is crucial that we consider, understand and address the real need in the solutions we promote for a given problem. Often, it’s easier said than done. Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s book Design for Real Life has had a profound effect on how I view creating processes and designing flows that serve humans and solve problems. Eric and Sara rekindled my love for looking beyond the obvious. A highly recommended read for anyone in touch with humans!

Later, Per followed up on his original tweet, by proposing the discussion about offline solutions to digital problems as an alternative:

I like the idea of breaking free from the hypnosis of the “offline denial syndrome”, as James puts it. Maybe the medium is not the answer. Maybe online and offline aren’t rivals, struggling for minutes they get to be used as solutions. If we see them as tools, maybe it would be easier to consider the problem first. A wrench and a hammer serve different purposes. A wrench can be used as a hammer, but it really shines its purpose as a wrench.

My summary of UX open 2015

UX open logo

There are few events that ever affected me in a way that this year’s UX open 2015 did. It is an unconference for people interested in all things user experience (UX) organised by the wonderful Martin Christensen and Maryam Ammouri for the fourth year in a row. Now I think my rather emotional response to the impression UX open has left on me is justified – the energetic participation and welcoming atmosphere was something every attendant seemed to be able to testify to and appreciate.

And even more than reliving the event by watching the photos and going through the links to the lightning talk presentations, I am looking forward to reading the organisers’ evaluation of the event in more than 140 characters. Here are a newcomer’s two cents.

(For the sake of consistency and continuity of this post, I will refer to the speakers, workshop leaders and other participants of UX open, whom I had the pleasure and honour of meeting and chatting with, as “UX people”.)

Across the 16 lightning talks, uncountable discussions in open spaces, engaged fish bowl panel discussions and most pleasant conversations over coffee and lunch, I have picked up on these four common themes.

The definition of UX

UX people cannot seem to agree on what user experience is or should be. (Surprise!) The different definitions seem to correspond to people’s different perspectives depending on their professional and academic background, current assignments and nature of work. Ranging between a way of doing things to a way of thinking things to not a “way” at all, the definition of user experience is rather far from being widespread, common and agreed upon.

As a result of this disagreement, however reluctant it may be, UX people can neither seem to agree on how to call themselves. The variations of titles represented at UX open are if not scary, then unsettling at least. One of the fish bowl panel discussion participants expressed it in the style of, “it’s funny how we work on making things easier for people to understand, though we can’t make what we work on easier to understand”. What I noticed they do agree on, however, is that it is okay to disagree on the titles.

UX is about people
UX is about improving and creating a better world, solving problems and satisfying needs.

UX people seem to also agree on why user experience is important, or at least that it is important. The first lightning talk presentation by Jens Wedin accounts for “the state of UX” in Sweden. The results of Jens research on the landscape of user experience from the perspective of UX people themselves show clearly that they are on a mission to improve and create a better world, solve problems and satisfy needs.

UX people are encouraged not to build for users, but rather with them, listening and learning. Whatever the definition, one thing seems to be certain. User experience is more about people than it is about programs, more about principles than it is about procedures, more about practices than it is about processes.

The scope of UX

UX people are keen on sharing methods and tools that help them do their work well. Whether it is finding ways of engaging users or working on analysing the gained insights, they are mindful of the differences in approaches and eager to learn from one another.

Gripen cockpit
The principles of UX are now being adopted in and by other domains and in the non-digital realm.

One aspect of user experience touched upon in some lightning talks and open spaces was what user experience encompassed. During recent years it has become referred to as a discipline within the web and the digital realm. Its principles are now being adopted in and by other domains, be it for the design and development of warplane cockpits or non-digital artefacts like services, meetings, environments and processes.

The necessity of UX

One of the biggest challenges that many UX people seem to share is the executive and other stakeholder buy-in. While they expressed frustration with some organisations’ inability and sometimes unwillingness to see the value of user experience, many showed understanding and patience with stakeholders’ having to learn and develop at their own pace. Still, acceptance of user experience as a factor of bringing value to users and customers is on the rise in many organisations. However, it is also often seen exclusively as a facilitator of rising sales figures.

The acceptance level of the value that the focus on user experience can bring into the organisation seems to be different depending on whether UX people are hired as consultants or employed in-house. Both groups point out, however, that user experience is often but a fragment of business and operations development that a company is in real need of. Oftentimes, UX people’s skills are about empowering teams within organisations to work efficiently, to communicate clearly and to deliver an effective product or service based on user- and customer-centric approaches. If the purpose of a project is to build a wall, user experience is the mortar rather than bricks.

Fish bowl
Will tech exist in the future? Yes. Will users exist in the future? Yes. Then yes, UX designers will also be needed. – Unn Swanström, @unnderbar, Netlight Consulting AB.

One of the most remarkable discussions during the fish bowl panel was that on whether user experience will exist and be needed in the future. Many agree that even though it is an expertise of few and a necessity today, user experience is on its way to shift focus and be the responsibility of many tomorrow. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that the need of facilitating the focus on users’ needs within organisations, advocating for their participation in the end-result of an undertaking, as well as enabling teams to create useful and usable products and services isn’t going to run dry any time soon.

The ethics of UX

UX people are also heedful of differentiating right from wrong. They admit to often treading the fine line between what is best for business and what is best for users. The balance that is hard to achieve, and whose absence is also hard to notice.

Friction in UX
Deliberate friction is a means to encourage users to make conscious decisions on their way to achieving the goal. – Per Axbom, @axbom, Axbom Innovation AB.

Per Axbom’s fantastic lightning talk on the dangers of what he calls “fairy tale-like user experiences” justly received the longest round of applause than any other talk of UX open. Brilliantly blending humour with serious business, Per questions the importance of building an easy-to-use website for a knife-through-butter frictionless user experience and at the end of the day manipulating users’ cognitive ability. Instead, he challenges UX people not to become obsessed with conversion rate optimisation as he argues for and urges the need of deliberately creating obstacles on users’ paths. This way we can encourage users to make conscious decisions and satisfy them in their experience stretching beyond the screen interaction and make sure we strike the balance between business goals and users’ needs.

Design for extremities
By designing for extremities, we contribute to more sustainable products that include more people. – Sara Lerén, @HeedTheNeed, inUse AB.

The notion of accessibility and inclusive design picks also on the ethics of user experience. Sara Lerén’s iconic lightning talk touches on the subject of designing for extremities as a means to create benefit for everyone. She argues user experience is about paying attention to marginalised minorities, instead of generic masses, in order to deliver the benefit of what UX people’s work contributes to creating. The benefit that can be enjoyed by all. Having a clear purpose upfront and targeting depreciated groups is a strong example of making sure a product or service is usable and used by many, standing the test of time.

Sara makes a case for inclusive design as opposed to mainstream and exclusive design. As an example, she questions traditional norms of asking for one’s gender in an online form and only providing two options – male and female. She argues that if there is a well-grounded reason for you to know the gender of your users, you must not make an assumption of everyone fitting in one or the other category.

Conclusion

My expectations coming to UX open 2015 were skyscraper-high. What I saw, learned and experienced made me soar above the highest building in the capital city. I am glad I could be part of an event made possible by the participants themselves. This conference format has proven to me to be most effective. Now, this is my picture of UX open. I am eager to see you paint and share yours.

There should not be a need for justdelete.me

I get many e-mails from applications I’d signed up for and forgot about. If I don’t use a service regularly, I like to delete my account. Sometimes it’s easier said than done. Forth comes justdelete.me.

justdelete.me
Justdelete.me is a directory of direct links to delete your account from web services.

Built by Robb Lewis and Ed Poole, it’s a handy directory of links to pages where you can delete your account from web services. Moreover, the tool provides colour codes to indicate the difficulty level of account deletion.

Justdelete.me shouldn’t exist. Deleting an account from web services shouldn’t be that big of an issue. Unfortunately, it is. And the popularity of the tool is undeniable.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

Building a product the users’ way

Rattle
Rattle by Daniel Goude (CC BY-NC 2.0)

So I did a quick test on my youngest daughter yesterday. I wanted to test her preference of hand to hold a toy rattle in. Left is wrong, I learned, and right is right—she’d switch hands every time I placed the toy in her “wrong” hand. After a while though, she got tired of the experiment and refused to take the toy at all.

Users will always try doing things their way, not yours. If you don’t heed their way, they will become disinterested, frustrated, or worse yet, hostile.

Place your product in users’ lap and observe. Act thenceforth accordingly.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

All links should be blue

Blue links
Photo cropped. Original: Links. by C/N N/G (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The less effort it takes for users to recognise an element on a web site the better. If a button looks like a button, the users are more likely to associate it with something pushable and to actually push it. Right?

It’s only partially true. What users recognise, and subsequently take for granted, is patterns. All patterns are culturally fabricated. The target audience is the key to decisions on both aesthetics and functionality.

If users expect links to be blue, they’ll look for blue to click. Building on what rocks their boat is the surest way to get it right.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

The frustrating microinteraction of discarding a post

It is the little things that make or break the overall experience with an application. Words to be used to interact with users are better left for experts to craft.

Here’s a quick example of a microinteraction—discarding a post—in three Android applications.

Google+ asks if the user wants to “discard this post”, giving them two options—No and Yes.
Google+ asks if the user wants to “discard this post”, giving them two options—No and Yes. The title of the dialog: Google+.
Facebook asks if the user is sure they want to “discard this post”, giving them two options—No and Yes.
Facebook asks if the user is sure they want to “discard this post”, giving them two options—No and Yes. The title of the dialog: Cancel.

“Okay, there’s a yes and a no. I’ll try no. Crap!” Both Google+ and Facebook give me le USB stick. Every single time.

Twitter asks if the user wants to “save changes”, giving them three options—Cancel, Discard and Save.
Twitter asks if the user wants to “save changes”, giving them three options—Cancel, Discard and Save. The title of the dialog: New Tweet.

Of these three, Twitter wins. It is to-the-point. It gives the user a chance to act, not just respond. More importantly, it focuses on the user’s task, not the technology to accomplish it.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

Playground swings and user testing

Girl on a swing
Photo courtesy of Joe Pomereneg

Together with my daughters, I’ve been to a decent share of playgrounds to know which swings have defects. The most common problem is not the worn-out buckets, but the unequal number of links in the chain hands.

The full benefit of a certain product arises when someone actually is using it in the intended way and to the intended extent. Though the idea with the swings is great, the execution is poor. So we just leave, because it’s impossible to enjoy swinging.

Test your product on real users before you ship it. Otherwise the end result will never yield profit.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts à 100 words in 100 days.

UX is about percipience

User experience is ultimately about people. Your perception of them will either bring them closer to your company and product or distance them from you.

Are you percipient to the people behind labels like “customers” and “clients”? Have you taken the time to understand what specific needs drive them to exploring your area of expertise? If not, how can you be sure that what you offer is what they desire?

The discipline of UX helps you find the answer to this important question. The insight can result in your ability to deliver something beautiful and valuable to satisfy consumers’ demand.

This post is part of the #blogg100 challenge—100 blog posts in 100 days.

UX is about user advocacy

User experience can have an influence on the potential profit a company can get. They only ought to start with users’ needs and desires before creating their product and focus on them while building it, right? They would then be able to sail into the sunset with full pockets and squillions of happy new customers.

Yet, UX is not about what your company can get by means of users. It’s what users can get by means of your product. It is about advocating users’ delight, empowering them to go beyond the impossible. Even despite your empty pockets and broken sails.

This post is part of a blog writing challenge #blogg100 – 100 blog posts in 100 days

Adaptive apps – are they here to stay?

The overflow of information I face daily through the abundance of channels is striking. Personalised search results, breaking news in my area, film suggestions based on my ratings – the apps are getting smarter as the algorithms get more complex with the purpose of bringing me the right information at the right time and place.

When I’m at work, I don’t require navigation at my fingertips. When I’m in a car, I don’t watch films. When I’m on vacation, I don’t (usually) read e-mail. Apps that learn from users’ habits of using a device and adapt to users’ behaviour are therefore smart, really smart. Moves is an example of an app with minimal setup requirements or settings alternatives. It just “knows” whether you walk or run or cycle and “remembers” the places you’ve been at, learning your moves in the everyday.

Adaptive apps are built with the user’s needs and goals in mind. They empower users to focus on the current situation they are in without being disturbed. Ultimately, they make it fun using technology without jeopardising efficiency. (Haven’t all technological innovations been about just that – smarter solutions to achieve efficiency, thus adding new value?)

Necessary apps at the right place and time

Cover is an app that learns “when and where you use different apps and puts them on your lockscreen for easy access.” It is a very interesting idea that I think is on the verge of breaking new ground of interaction with a mobile device.

Cover – The right apps at the right time is a video by Cover for Android on YouTube

Homescreen adapting to user’s context

There’s also Aviate. Reminding of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Home, it is an “intelligent homescreen that organizes the information in your phone and surfaces it at the perfect moment”.

AVIATE is a video by Aviate on YouTube

Here to stay?

I doubt that the apps themselves are going to be dominant as the ones staying. The mindset behind them though is bound to be incorporated across the mobile operating systems at some point. Furthermore, I’d be curious to see a similar solution for desktop, even if, at first, it might be about my behaviour and habit based coupled with time (and timezone?) regulated applications.

Applications that enhance my efficiency and empower me to focus on the essential for the moment are fundamentally the ones that I think well can stand the test of time.