Welcome. Some of you know what I mean when I talk about Brown Dirt UX. It ’ s the opposite of Blue Sky which isn;t to say that ’ s a bad thing. We look to the sky for inspiration, anything is possible there, the laws of physics cease to exist. It ’ s the perfect place to dream. Brown Dirt, on the other hand, is where things grow with sweat and mud and work and often frustration but the results can be astounding and made all the more so by the effort it took.
Here ’ s where and what I ’ ve done to get dirty. You can cover a lot of ground after a while. At the first IA Summit I was asked what the credential should be for an IA. I said “ Wait til you ’ re 30 and never keep a job more than two years. ” I should have said “ pay attention all your life ” which I think I did with the possible exception of 1982. Although I ’ m classified now as a Strategist, I ’ m still not removed from the the wiring that makes me an IA; the need to understand the cause and effect of collected information or the way people interact with it. Everything on this list contributes in some way to how I think about my work whether it ’ s putting in toilets or running a Discovery session with a large client.
Everyone here should ask this question of themselves EVERY DAY. If you don ’ t know or if you have obstacles, I hope our little visit will help you find an answer or give you ideas about how to move those obstacles.
The first thing you need to know is how you fit in the ecosystem where you work; true in the short-term if you ’ re a contractor or the long-term if you ’ re a permanent employee. Are you known for being a problem solver? Are you a PIA - you could be both? Are you a pair of hands? Do you need a lot of maintenance? Are you known at all?
Are you a title? Are you “ That guy ” ? Are you the creative genius or the usability whiz? Are you just a familiar face?
UX and the people who practice it are often at an automatic disadvantage. What we do is hard to measure directly at least in terms that are considered meaningful by the people who decide these things. It ’ s for that reason you need to gain trust. it comes in a few ways; sometimes you get the benefit of the doubt and trust is yours to lose. Sometimes you have to earn your way out of a hole in the ground that you didn ’ t even dig. Regardless, earn it or keep it takes work and the work is worth it.
Jeffrey Gitomer comes from a successful sales background and for many years has been writing and talking about sales in terms of relationships which is at the heart of any any trust you enjoy no matter whether you ’ re talking about your work or your personal life.
If you really trust someone, you trust them with what you value. What people tend to value most is their own ass; keeping it covered and out of a sling.
Try this. Do a Trust Audit. Just estimate how trusted you think you are and by whom. What is it about you that makes you trustworthy. Is it your demeanor and bearing. Is it truthfulness, diplomacy, honesty, your height, your voice, your age, your race, sex or reputation. The reasons people trust you are both experiential and irrational. They are not all politically correct but they can be cultivated. Who do you think trusts you? Who do you think needs to trust you but doesn ’ t? Why? is it your fault and do you have something to repair? Is it someone else ’ s crappy childhood and you ’ re paying for it? Is it a cultural mind-set?
To be trusted, you have to know what makes a difference to the people you need to trust you. In the UX world, we talk about the relationships between content and context all the time. Eric Reiss said if content is King, Context is surely the kingdom. You may know down to your bones what a situation demands from UX in order to be successful but if you don ’ t put that content in the context that is relevant to the decision makers in the room, you;re going to end-up on the curb muttering about how the bastards just don ’ t get it which is the last refuge for the failed. I know! I not only lived there for longer than was probably healthy, I decorated the place.
Even when you can see the road to success or failure as clear as a streak of lightning and even if logically, everyone else might too, people aren ’ t always creatures of logic. In fact you can depend on them to behave in ways that will first and foremost help them avoid PAIN. The funny thing about pain-avoidance is that people often think they ’ re in pursuit of the opposite; pleasure seeking. “ If I don ’ t feel pain, that ’ s good right? ” How can you change the context of what you know to be necessary so that it makes pain go away? We ’ re going to talk about some ways in a minute
First we ’ re going to talk about how different people measure success or understand pain. To do that we ’ re going to talk about persona. The trouble with persona is that they are generalizations and not always fair to an individual so as I make sweeping comments about the Business or Development or even Design, remember that your mileage and experience will probably have shown you exceptions. If that ’ s the case, good for you but don ’ t stand-up to refute these statements on the basis of a particular experience or two. So...Here ’ s that bastard Exec. Do you think he get ’ s up in the morning, sips his cappuccino and while he ’ s drawing pictures in the foam, thinks about how to make your life a living hell? He ’ s going to block you at every turn. He ’ s going to say things like “ I don ’ t mean to tell you your job but... ” and ask questions like “ Can you guarantee the success of this app if we follow your opinion? Mostly, the answer is no. If he ’ s close to your project at all, he ’ s having to answer to someone who ‘ s not. Whether they sit in an office down, the hall or on a board of Directors. He and they are conditioned to get results with a minimum of risk. Their reckoning is managed by watching the needles that tell them how time and money are being spent or saved. Moreover, they will have to stand in front of someone and explain why those measures were met or exceeded. They ’ ve already predicted how things will go that year and their ass is the one getting torched if they ’ re wrong. To understand these guys and why we end-up in opposite sides of the table, I want to tell you about something I noticed a few years ago: When I still considered myself an artist, I would show people my work because, let ’ s face it, we need to folks to tell us they love us and what we do. I noticed when a person had any creative background or sensibility, they would ask questions like: “ where did you get the idea for that? ” or “ What inspired you to render this in such a way? ” or “ what materials did you use/ ” All qualitative inquiries about how something came to be. If they didn ’ t have that same sense, I inevitably got the same question every time... ” how long did that take? ” Every time I heard that, A disdainful demon in the back of my mind would roll his eyes and start looking at ways to shift the conversation or find someone to properly adore my work. A of years ago long after I ’ d finished a couple of business degrees and worked for both agencies and enterprises, I realized something. If you don;t think about design creatively and you;re faced with being asked for an appraisal, you don;t want to be a douchebag. you want to say something nice so you put the design in the context of something meaningful: Time. That ’ s valuable! If it took a lot of time, it must be good right? The fact is nothing could be further from the truth. Some of my best work happened in no time while some of the biggest steaming piles of pen & ink took months. The point of this story is the person in question was trying to be nice by translating my design into something he could understand as valuable. A lot of people were excused from my shit -parade when I realized that.
Yes, I know Edward Tufte said there are only two professions that refer to their customers as users; software professionals and drug dealers. When you think about it drug-dealers have a better handle on what their customers want and “ need ” than we do even if they had a part in creating the need. There ’ s another creature out there, the Marketing professional. EXTEND THE BRAND!!! make it bigger, louder, more colorful, and clever and people will fall all over themselves to get what you have to offer. These folks are also on the hook whether they are in Business Development, Account Management or Marketing Communications. Their job is to put a great face on a product or brand. They are being measured by CPM, trafffic, new conversion and any other method that shows more people are thinking about the brand and therefore buying what the brand has to offer. There ’ s another story you may have heard before about two bulls standing on a hill overlooking the herd. The young bull says “ hey! Let ’ s run down there and each get us one of them cows! ” The older bulls says “ Why don ’ t we walk-down and get them all ” The Marketer think they have a handle on User Experience because they do focus groups and polls to conduct the demographic and psychographic picture that we might look to as the basis of a persona BUT A focus group is not user testing and marketing profiles are not User persona. The point here is that you are seldom going to make anyone do what you want if they aren ’ t pre-disposed to it. You might trick someone once or you might hold the carrot they want behind the BS they don ’ t want but that ’ s just not sustainable if people start to think the price of admission isn ’ t worth it or if there is a an alternative elsewhere.
The most miserable creature on the planet is the designer who doesn ’ t get to design. They see their efforts diluted if not totally dismissed by the Marketing department or anyone else in an approval position who feels confident they can be an art director. It can be argued that this situation helped give rise to the notion of the ...single-horned equine as the jack of all trades from concept to code. In an effort to regain some control of the user experience many designers have expanded their resumes to take-in the handful of practices that sit on the immediate periphery of their skill set. The truth from where I ’ ve been sitting is that while I know a few people who fit that category and some of them are skulking around here this week. It ’ s not realistic to think you ’ re going to staff-up with them and even when I had the money to hire them and actively sought them out, it didn ’ t take long to see where their hearts lie. If you do find one, build a practice around them. In any case, you may need to distinguish the design effort from the things that inform it. The business intelligence, the functional design that translates the intel to interaction and the inventory of features and content. Have your designers in those conversations. You may discover that they have tremendous insight or you may watch them self-select out of those talks either way you ’ ll help them into a role that suits them uniquely.
Developers have an distinct advantage over UX. Their skill set is largely opaque and unless you ’ re a developer, you don ’ t what ’ s under the hood. When I make popcorn in a microwave, I want to push the popcorn button and get popcorn. I could give a shit about the principles of microwave science. I just want the magic and I ’ m content to think of it that way. So when Dev says something can ’ t be done and there ’ s no one to refute them, guess what? It can ’ t be done. They join the bastard club when you ’ ve hammered-out this great user experience and when it ’ s time for the demo, you see something completely alien to your your work and you hear one of two things: “ This IS what you specified. ” or...wait for it... ” We thought this would be a better user experience. ” No one questions math. Everyone questions Design. Here ’ s why you need to feel for these guys. They may not know exactly what it is they have to build but they ’ re familiar enough with existing systems to know that certain things will take a certain amount of time regardless. Or...the system may be so fractious that anything they touch will break something else. The more uncertainty, the more you pad your estimations and Dev, more than anyone else owns the clock. If the effort is time-boxed without the benefit of...oh...I don ’ t know...ANYTHING TO INFORM THE TIMELINE!!! Dev is going to stake out as much of that time as they can. Get to know your dev leads. Talk about ideas while they ’ re still ideas give them the chance to say “ We don ’ t do that today but I I think I know how we can. ” Be in line with Dev before you go back to the business with a proposal for exactly the reason I just mentioned. If Dev says it can happen they will be believed.
Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time. The circumstances we just relived are not small. They don ’ t develop over-night and they aren ’ t always under the control of one person. Even though the solution seems simple to you; just follow any advice you get from UX and we ’ ll be golden, gaining a foothold doesn ’ t happen quickly either. The recommendations I ’ m about to make are small bites and you may need to take several before you see any progress. Remember that trust audit? If the person or people you need to trust you didn ’ t score very high or vise-versa, you could have some work ahead of you. On the other hand, you may find out that taking the initiative was exactly the right thing to do at the right time and you suddenly enjoy a new degree of leverage.
As I mentioned before, the methods I ’ m about to cover may not be new to you but the idea of using them specifically to gain trust might be. You ’ ll probably have to spend a few nights or a weekend but the idea here is to do it without permission. If you ask first, you ’ re inviting the spreadsheet minds to begin weighing your time and effort against other things - things they will consider more valuable especially if they have no experience with what you ’ re doing. Trying to explain it in abstract won;t help you here. By presenting them with a finished piece, you prevent them having to imagine the outcome before they agree to it. It ’ s for this reason that they all share common attributes. First, they ’ re all fairly simple to prepare and execute. Any one method can be accomplished in about 48 hours. Second, They have to be practical to the work at hand or to the core competence of the company. Remember, does it make or save money or time? Actionable, does it offer a specific solution, something that can be put into action. Quick Results, You probably don ’ t have a lot of time either and you can bet that even if you offer this to someone who can see its value, they will ask you how long it took you to do it. When I was building this slide, I was shuffling things around on the screen and I saw the acronym SPAQ. Honestly the last thing we need is another acronym but SPAQ made me laugh so here it is... SPAQ it!. SPAQ off! It ’ s time to SPAQ!
If you have direct competitors, put their apps through some paces. Look for a particular feature or set of interactions that are common or look for distinctions and create a comparison in the form of a chart along the same lines as Consumer Reports or an infographic. Offer your observations in terms of an opportunity or a solution to a potential threat.
The heuristic analysis has been a popular tool in the UX box for a long time. Essentially and expert review, this analysis uses a generally accepted set of guidelines for rating the usability of a web site or app. Examples like “ Recovering from errors ” or “ Always reflecting system status ” are part of the 10 Heuristics for Web Usability originally published by Jakob Nielsen. You review an application and grade it along these guidelines using a Likert or 1-5 scale. One person can do this in an afternoon. You might ask a few colleagues to do it as well and aggregate the scores. Something you ’ ll see repeated throughout the rest of this talk is the idea that getting you ’ r words to come from someone else. These will still be your words but their someone else ’ s criteria. Something you may have already discovered is that an expert is someone who comes from more than 50 miles away. It ’ s not fair but the worlds leading expert on a subject can go unnoticed by the people who sit within 50 feet.
There are so many ways to test a feature or interaction from paper prototypes to high-fidelity interactive comps start with a pencil & paper, You can mock-up a paper device and slide your screens through it. There are interactive tools for tablets, phones and desktops. No matter what you use, just make sure you try it out with someone first to make sure it doesn ’ t totally confuse. There ’ s almost always more value in showing something than in trying to explain it.
Get out of the office. Take your prototypes to the coffee shop, the bar, the airport, ask questions, conduct polls. Record or film the responses and tabulate your data. The closer you can come to the appropriate user group the better.
There are several tools out there that offer free demo periods; Optimal Workshops, Usertesting.com and Userzoom to name a few. They don ’ t always offer a fully functional product but it ’ s enough to get a good taste. Use this time to tee-up something that you know is bothering the boss. The testing results are sometimes recorded. Again, the power of seeing for themselves when something isn ’ t working or works really well may get you more traction than trying to explain the situation in advance. You can test a rough prototype or your competitor sites to compare a similar set of interactions.
Going back to the principles I listed; Simple, Practical, Applicable & Quick Results... think through what you believe offers particular value to the person(s) who ’ ll receive your work. Choose them thoughtfully and consider a combination; prototype + guerrilla testing.
IAS13 Brown Dirt UX: Creating Impact Without Permission