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A Survival Guide for Complex UX


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Tutorial: As a UX practitioner working in complex environments you have to be flexible, since commonly-used user-centred design techniques may not work. In this tutorial, we provide insights into how you can approach UX problems in complex fields with confidence.

With concrete examples from our experience of designing services for life scientists, we describe approaches you can use to characterise specialist users, and translate their requirements into successful designs. In the hands-on activity, you will experiment with our unique (and recently published) ‘canvas sort’ technique, for prioritising large numbers of data items and modelling their interactions.

So if you work in UX in a complex environment - such as in scientific research, pharmaceuticals, engineering, technology, finance, or others - join us to learn how to survive when things get complicated!

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A Survival Guide for Complex UX

  1. 1. Flickr: N A I T Paula de Matos & Jenny Cham A Survival Guide for Complex UX
  2. 2. My name is Paula de Matos I live in Cambridge I am an Independent UX Analyst I tweet @Paula_deMatos I am South African & Portuguese I am an agile evangelist
  3. 3. •  Part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory •  International, non-profit research institute •  540 people work at EMBL-EBI, 48 nations represented •  Average age: 37 yrs EMBL-EBI EuroHub for Bioinformatics in Hinxton
  4. 4. 2012 2013 Our recent papers: UX and Bioinformatics (open access)
  5. 5. Characteristics of a complex environment… Flickr: Gigi C
  6. 6. •  highly inter-connected •  has depth (big picture and high level of granularity important) •  high volume, big scale •  unfamiliar since it is a ‘niche’/’expert’ field (niche vocab.) •  needing security/ privacy/ authentication •  real time-critical Complex environments have data that is/ may be…
  7. 7. •  May have geographically separated team •  People (always complex but added complications may be…) •  Not aware of UX (“fluffy stuff”) •  Do not know who users are/ not interested in the user •  Lack buy-in (“should we simplify stuff?”) People in complex environments…
  8. 8. Rich client mapping e.g. Geographical software Multi-screen terminals for stock brokers e.g. Thomson Reuters Flickr: Travel Aficionado Examples
  9. 9. Examples Pharmaceutical Research and Development e.g. identifying and validating new drug targets
  10. 10. •  10 minutes •  Identify a facilitator •  Chat in your team •  Other characteristics of a complex environment we missed? •  Facilitator present back summary Are you working in a complex environment? What are the issues you face?
  11. 11. Bioinformatics research/services is a complex environment
  12. 12. •  At the heart of modern biology research •  Science of storing, retrieving and analysing biological information •  An interdisciplinary science involving biologists, biochemists, computer scientists and mathematicians What is bioinformatics?
  13. 13. L-O-A-D-S of data 0 2000 4000 6000 8000 10000 12000 14000 16000 18000 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 TBofdata
  14. 14. ‘Dry’ and ‘wet’ scientists use the same software Sweet spot? Jakob Nielsen, Usability Engineering 1993
  15. 15. We don’t sell stuff… Flickr: Kristian Niemi
  16. 16. Finding the people can be difficult
  17. 17. Our survival guide…
  18. 18. UCD lifecycle for a complex environment Knife image from
  19. 19. Flickr: atkinson000 Survival tip #1: Understand the data and “big picture” •  Get interested •  Learn the basics yourself •  Make a new friend/s
  20. 20. Survival tip #2: Love thy stakeholders •  Understand •  UCD stakeholder champions •  UX buy-in strategy •  Incentives?
  21. 21. e.g. •  Literature research •  Competitor analysis •  Due diligence Survival tip #3: Understanding the context
  22. 22. Survival tip #4: teach your development team the basics
  23. 23. ≠ Folks at UX London 2011 Survival tip #5: mitigate ‘self-as-user’ outlook (use refs) Debra the in vivo pharma R&D scientist Fact: we are not the users
  24. 24. Example: persona
  25. 25. •  Ask your buddy •  Find out a little about the expertise of the target user so you can get the conversation flowing •  Ask when they don’t make any sense •  Record the interview Survival tip #6: interview experts (pref. in their own lab)
  26. 26. Example: empathy mapping Survival tip #7: Try gamestorming with geeks (aka experts) Gray et al. (2010) Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers UX Cam 2011 talk: Coming Out of Your Shell: Using UX Workshops to Your Advantage in a Techie/ Scientific Setting Out-of-Your-Shell
  27. 27. Example: speedboat game
  28. 28. Survival tip #8: Establish your Information Architecture
  29. 29. What happens if you ask... What is important to you? What do you want?
  30. 30. Engaging IA ‘head scratcher’ for target users (experts)
  31. 31. Stimulates discussion esp. dot vote to get consensus
  32. 32. Scenario •  You have been offered a great job (at an agency) in Cape Town, South Africa •  You are not sure whether to accept the position   Your task (in teams) •   Find out if Cape Town is suitable for you/your family Starting point •  You arrive at an information portal for Cape Town, what is the first thing you need to see? Tutorial: learn how to canvas sort Flickr: Xevi V Start activity"
  33. 33. The activity will end in -1:0
  34. 34. Synthesis and consolidation of artefacts
  35. 35. Canvas Sort Result #1: Relative priorities of data items and actions
  36. 36. Result #2: Model of the information architecture for the portal
  37. 37. Result #3: Ideas to take into sketching
  38. 38. Result #4: Visual specs & can start thinking about relevant technologies/ constraints Created using Balsamiq Mockups (
  39. 39. Survival tip #9: quick & easy prototyping keeps ideas flowing & dev costs low
  40. 40. Survival tip #10: Things are more likely to go wrong in a complex environment •  Data that does not exist •  Things going wrong on release day •  Stakeholder posturing
  41. 41. Our 10 UX tips for surviving in complex environments Survival tip #1: Understand the data and “big picture” Survival tip #2: Love thy stakeholders Survival tip #3: Understanding the context Survival tip #4: Teach your development (or agile) team the basics Survival tip #5: Mitigate ‘self-as-user’ outlook (use refs) Survival tip #6: Interview experts (pref. in their own lab) Survival tip #7: Try gamestorming with geeks (aka experts) Survival tip #8: Establish your Information Architecture Survival tip #9: Quick prototyping keeps ideas flowing & dev costs low Survival tip #10: Things are more likely to go wrong
  42. 42. Mapping survival tips to our case study Knife image from #1-4 #5 #6 #7-8 #9 #10
  43. 43. Jenny Cham Email: LinkedIn: jennifer-cham Twitter: @JenniferCham Contact us Paula de Matos Email: LinkedIn: pauladematos Twitter: @Paula_deMatos
  44. 44. Useful references Complex UX •  Chilana, P.K. et al (2010) Understanding usability practices in complex domains. CHI 2010 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2337-2346 Personae •  Baron-Cohen, S. et al (2003) The systemizing quotient: an investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism, and normal sex differences. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London 358: 361-74 •  William Hudson (2009) Reduced Empathizing Skills Increase Challenges for User-Centered Design CHI 2009 April 3–9, Boston, MA, USA Gamestorming •  Gray D, Brown S, Macanufo J (2010) Game storming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers. California: O’Reilly Media.
  45. 45. Coordinated by Francis Rowland UX interest group: EMBL- EBI interfaces
  46. 46. #
  47. 47. Questions?