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UX Coaching - helping developers become better generalists
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UX Coaching - helping developers become better generalists


A solution for user experience (UX) practitioners struggling in an Agile environment. Coach the whole team in UX methods so that the basic skills become part of their repertoire. Includes reference to …

A solution for user experience (UX) practitioners struggling in an Agile environment. Coach the whole team in UX methods so that the basic skills become part of their repertoire. Includes reference to Empathizing/Systemizing theory to help ground coaching with techniques that will appeal to developers.
Presented at Balanced Team conference 2011, San Francisco.

Published in Business , Technology
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  • Of course, after putting the deck together, I saw that Anders had already claimed the name. Oh well.
  • Feeling unempowered?When we say “generalist” we use a very specialized description: we mean “someone who has several different skills that help get software out the door”
  • Things people wanted to learn:How to share UX data with the teamHow to incorporate UX lifecycle into agile projectsFormalize design researchMoving from selling your work to co-creating with collaboratorsCommunicate design with low documentationHow to get job satisfaction as UX personHow to sell UX in the companyAre you really asking how to move from being chicken to being pig?
  • T-shaped people are supposed to be generalists with a good specialty. UX coaches provide the UX specialty for the team while still allowing them to be UX generalists.
  • Empathizers are interested in people and social interaction while systemisers are more focused on the physical world and causality SQ-EQ can predict programming abilityEmpathy here = cognitive empathy, not affective empathy. Type S people may have difficulties ascertaining others' thoughts and feelings, but experience empathy when they are aware of others' states of mind. This bodes well for two reasons: it means that once shown, systemizers can empathize. It is also the opposite behavior to psychopaths, which is somewhat reassuring in the workplace.
  • Anything above the straight lines is “more” EQ or SQ than control group/”users”Men and women in all IT roles systemized more than regular usersMen in technology-heavy roles in IT and most women in IT empathized less than regular usersP-T scale is job role of survey participantControl groups: Women average EQ of 48, average SQ of 24. Men average EQ 38, SQ 31
  • Team members can still empathize even if they are more likely to prefer systemizingAllow team a chance to reset proposed goals after first results – they will always set them too high.
  • If you ARE sharing results from tests, use problem lists augmented with screen shots and occasional wireframe redesigns. These are all systemizer-friendly and were well received (concise, contextual, constructive criticism) (Norgaard, M; Hornbaek, K., (2009). Exploring the value of usability feedback formats. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 25, 49 – 74.)
  • Biz sponsor (female) was one of most systemizingThis should have been sprint 0 but was actually more like sprint 10 (had been going on and off for 2 years with nothing really compelling to show for it)Leave details of how to implement some of these ideas as an exercise for the audience ;-)


  • 1. UX Coaching
    Helping developers become better generalists
    Chris Nodder
  • 2. The concept of the UX person as a specialist is hurting their interaction with developers because it encourages ivory tower thinking (and whining)
    Hire a UX person who can also do testing, coding and/or bottle washing
    Embrace specialism: consider UX people as coaches to help whole team be empathetic to user needs
  • 3. © Chris Nodder
    © Chris Nodder
  • 4. Team’s UX skills
    Coach’s UX skills
    T-shaped teams…
  • 5. Empathizing-systemizing theory
    Systemizing Quotient (SQ)
    Empathizing Quotient (EQ)
    Simon Baron-Cohen et al, Autism Research Center
    William Hudson “Reduced empathizing skills increase challenges for user-centered design” (CHI '09)
  • 6. Men in IT
    Women in IT
    Dev team members systemize more and empathize less than users
  • 7. It’s a preference, not a handicap
    “Seeing is believing” – increase empathy by having lower empathy team members watch users interact with product
    Increase investment: team proposes product goals, UX helps them find ways to measure
    Pairing across disciplines can help balance systemizing and empathizing in the product
    Needs patience from both parties
    Personas, scenarios, storyboards, screenshots all appeal to systemizers
    Personas and scenarios help with empathy
    Storyboards and screenshots show relation to underlying system
    Ensure systemizers are involved in creation, not just consumption
  • 8. Message to the UX coach
    Best way to share data with the team is to have them experience it
    Get the team to suggest research agenda
    Show them how to make the research agenda valid (reduce bias, increase effect)
    Teach them how to do the research
    Once they see user behavior first hand, the need for communicating results is reduced/incorporated into the current process
    Formalizing/incorporating UX is a red herring. Instead it's a mindset-change thing
    You have to CREATE the mindset through constant coaching
    If you don't do that, developers will (continue to) route around UX
    Satisfaction comes from sharing skills, not from being an expert that nobody listens to
  • 9. Message to the team
    You are not your users, and your product suffers as a result
    UX skills are very valuable on a resume. Spending time with UX people will make you smarter and a better generalist
    Even if you are back-end rather than UI focused you still need to be able to predict how users will work with your system
    Time with users is time well spent
    Reduces rework
    Prevents arguments
    Produces more focused product that people will like better
  • 10. UX Coaching in action
    1-week engagement with team developing a social media platform
    Whole team involved (incl. biz sponsor & devs)
    I facilitated, they directed
    Field visits
    Intensive design sessions (incl. user specification, scenarios, charrettes)
    Paper prototypes
    User testing
    NO CODE written during this time – devs were focused on understanding user needs
    Generated large list of issues/research topics to track
    Subsequent coaching support during development and user testing (run by team)
    Refer back to personas, storyboards, wireframes, shared visit experiences, user test sessions
    More empathetic team members “got it” faster, and started coaching systemizing team members to help them understand. I began to step back.
    Whole team more cohesive and focused because understood product goals in terms of user need
    Easy to see how well goals were being met via user testing/metrics
    Product has been well received by pilot audience (goes live in Oct.)
  • 11.