A survival guide for UX in complex environments


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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 session, 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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  • Welcome to our workshop, thanks for coming along
    This is a session is about how to do UX research and design work in complex settings
    It will be part experience report, part hands-on tutorial
    Our aim is to equip you with the ideas and skills you’ll need to tackle complex UX (examples coming up)
    By the end of the session you will
    1. have had a play with our novel card sorting technique
    2. And have heard our top survival tips
  • This is not cambridge!

    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
  • EBI library picture
    Loads of data

    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 experience do we have to share?

    First ever examples of UX practitioners writing how to do UX for bioinformatics – target readership is scientists working in biology or biomedical research
  • When we talk about complex UX – we mean UX in complex environments – what affect does this tyoe of environment have on us as UX practitoners, designers, developers?

    Are you working in a complex environment?
  • 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
    needing security/ privacy/ authentication
    real time-critical
  • You may think all scientists are a bit wet – but we mean informaticians vs bench bods

    diverse needs and skills
    Novice user – easy to learn, less efficient to use
    Expert – hard to learn but efficient for expert users
    curves cross = sweet spot

  • Measuring impact of UCD is hard
    scientific ‘discovery’ is hard to measure/ intangible

    This seems a bit odd… its too specific to us I think?
  • Domain expert and interested in ux?
    Lack of individuals with mix of skills/ desire to be UX practitioners in our field
  • Photo of stock exchange: could not find one of a multi-screen terminal
  • On flip charts
  • Using a case study example

    Enzyme Portal intro
  • In a complex environment when you first start: it feels like you landed on a different planet and everyone speaks klingon.
    How do you go about solving this problem?
    Do your own research to learn the basics…. Wikipedia is a great resource for this. You could also try some basic tutoring either one-on-one, online or scheduled courses. I did Cambridge course modules in Genetics to understand the basics.
    Buddy up….. There is no way you can become an expert in such a short time so you need to rely on the experts judgement. So choose a buddy that can guide you through the terminology and “translate” when things get tough. Should be someone whose judgement you can trust and someone who has bought into UCD.
    That might be the project sponsor, data curator, user, stakeholder…. Whoever will provide the time!

    Literature research
    Competitor analysis
    Due diligence

    It is really important to do your research in complex environments.
    Because it is complex it is likely others are struggling with similar issues and have some solutions to the problems.
    It is also important to know your competitors as you don’t want to repeat similar problems that they have had.

    Due diligence on the context and organisational structure (politics) of the project, team, stakeholders

    What to do?
    Thorough literature search both in HCI and also the field in question. In our case we had to understand the bioinformatics and HCI literature regarding enzymes and portals. Information visualisation was also part of our problem and so we also looked at that. I (Paula) have worked on projects which I had to research in sometimes 4 areas of research.
    Competitor analysis of some sort. This is handy to bring to a stakeholders meeting to get them to dissect the differences and what will make your service/product different.

  • Understand as much about the stakeholders needs, wants and pain points up front as possible.

    Championing the case of UX. Find out which stakeholders you can rely on to work with UCD and those who will need some convincing.

    Find a strategy to bring them on board – we used personas during a stakeholder meeting.

    Incentivising Example of publishing.
    Keep them keen – we created biweekly meetings which were interactive and gave them a say in the

  • Reasoning: this is more related to my work with Metabolights but I found that taking the development team to the lab and explaining the process gave us a headstart and helped us during the UX process and dev. It saves alot of silly little errors that they can pick up on for example, when the data is clearly wrong.

    Survival tip #3: teach your development team or agile team the basics
  • As UX people we all know that our experience is not the experience of our target user.
    However our dev team might have other ideas and so we need to mitigate for this.
    We found using scientific papers as evidence to show them that if you good at systemising you might struggle to empathise.
    User profiles was a handy tool that made it easier to empathise.

    We found it easier to use cartoons so that they could appreciate it an archetype rather than an individual.

    They were proud that they were good systemises and therefore needed the extra help to empathise.

    Highlighting background research:
    Use the baron-cohen or william hudson refs to highlight why user profiles work
    Talks about empathising-systemising theory – it’s not just a ‘fun’ idea – there’s research behind it

    Reduced Empathizing Skills Increase Challenges for User-Centered Design
  • Ask your buddy (domain expert) what sort of questions they would like to know about the user
    Find out in advance a little about the user so that you can speak the same lingo….
    Don’t be afraid to say when you don’t understand and explain upfront that you are very much an interested novice.
    The niche vocabularly becomes an issue.

    Record the interview so that you can come back to it and ask your buddy later.

    Example: sildenafil as a drug for jet lag which we could use later for doing wireframes with real data.
    With careful planning, workshop activities can be extremely helpful. They aren’t great at the very initial phase – when you have no idea where the project is going. But once you’ve started using workshop activities can give you evidence on what users want without actually asking them.
    Nice change, fun
  • Jenny takes over
    “I want everything!” (Do you really?)
    Need to encourage prioritisation of data items/ define an information architecture/ mental model
    Workshop activity ‘canvas sort’ to:
    Get users to prioritise data items (and negotiate amongst themselves to decide)
    Model how they want to interact with the data
    Confirm our user profiles

    analyse commonalities between teams

    Part card sort, part interface design

    Add canvas sort to your repertoire of UX techniques
  • A complex envi has so much data that when you ask users what is important they are likely to say “everything”
  • Real data illustrates the problem in terms that they understand and get into it.
    Scientific debate rather than a managementy/ux

    Not only is this good to get the consensus on the day. Word gets out and its interesting activity and gives more momentum for future activities.
  • 1 canvas – 2 if we have time, 6 data items only
    Everyone put what they want on and then dot vote, discussion may help
    Think of actions as functionality – what would you like to do with the data?
    e.g. if you have a map you might want to zoom in and out
    Remember you need to decide on whether to go to cape town – what info would you need to decide
    You have blank cards to add additional data items to the canvas.
    You must give your canvas a title.
    This is not a website or a page – it’s a blank canvas - Do not think in terms of ‘technology’

  • Paula take over
  • This example tally is for data items only can do it for actions/ functionalities
    Tallying up and comparing what each group chose and did per canvas is interesting.
    Some times overlap others don’t.

    Here are two different canvas done for the EP project. The second one has lots of overlaps and the first one doesn’t.
  • Building the user mental model in the language they understand.
  • We could do speed sketching where involved the stakeholders and developers based on the canvas sort data output
    Sketch as individuals and regroup to get the best ideas as a group sketch.
  • We used paper prototypes to test the usability of the interface mainly because they are cheap to make and fix.
    In complex data environments and with such intricate data it is sometimes difficult to make high fidelity prototypes without investing huge resources. By using paper prototypes we could keep the ideas flowing and have a quick turnaround with ideas.

    Paper prototyping is a technique in which you use paper wireframes as your “screen” and pencil as your “mouse”. The transitions between wireframes are taken care of by a human operator instead of a computer.
    Why did work well?
    We used a credible example e.g. viagra which is also being tested as a drug to reduce the effects of jetlag. Users found it engaging and soon forgot it is paper. Note as specialists expect them to nit pick over the tiniest details of the data but not the colours and buttons and layout.

    Leaves participant free to concentrate on the interactions, not distracted by colours, fonts, etc.
    5-8 users is usually enough
    Finding new issues plateaus
    Make sure you get consent
    Highlights issues doesn’t give you the solution

    NB: Because it was a credible, believable example – users found it engaging and soon forgot it is paper. Note as specialists expect them to nit pick over the tiniest details of the data but not the colours and buttons and layout.
  • Oh you survived we got to the end.
    Here is a summary of our tips.
  • Chilana paper too
  • A survival guide for UX in complex environments

    1. 1. Flickr: N A I T Paula de Matos & Jenny Cham A Survival Guide for UX in Complex Environments
    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. What is bioinformatics?
    4. 4. Our recent papers: UX and Bioinformatics (open access)
    5. 5. Characteristics of a complex environment… Flickr: Gigi C
    6. 6. Complex environments have data that is/ may be…
    7. 7. People in complex environments Sweet spot? Jakob Nielsen, Usability Engineering 1993
    8. 8. Intangible value of UX in complex environments Flickr: Kristian Niemi
    9. 9. Finding the people can be difficult
    10. 10. Maps and networks Multi-screen terminals for stock brokers Flickr: Travel Aficionado Examples
    11. 11. • 10 minutes • Identify a facilitator • Chat in your team • Are there 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?
    12. 12. Our survival guide…
    13. 13. Flickr: atkinson000 Survival tip #1: Understand the data and “big picture” • Get interested • Learn the basics yourself • Make a new friend/s
    14. 14. Survival tip #2: Love thy stakeholders • Understand • UCD stakeholder champions • UX buy-in strategy • Incentives?
    15. 15. Survival tip #3: teach your development team the basics
    16. 16. ≠ Folks at UX London 2011 Survival tip #4: mitigate ‘self-as-user’ outlook Debra the in vivo pharma R&D scientist Fact: we are not the users
    17. 17. • Ask your buddy • Research the interviewee so you can get the conversation flowing • Ask when they don’t make any sense • Record the interview Survival tip #5: interview experts (e.g. in their own lab)
    18. 18. Gray et al. (2010) Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers Survival tip #6: Try gamestorming with geeks (aka experts)
    19. 19. Example: empathy mapping
    20. 20. Example: speedboat game
    21. 21. Survival tip #7: Establish your Information Architecture
    22. 22. What happens if you ask... What is important to you? What do you want?
    23. 23. Engaging IA ‘head scratcher’ for target users (experts)
    24. 24. Stimulates discussion esp. dot vote to get consensus
    25. 25. 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 User Task Tutorial: learn how to canvas sort Flickr: Xevi V
    26. 26. You arrive at an information portal for Cape Town, what is the first thing you need to see to determine whether Cape Town is suitable for you/your family, so you can decide whether to accept the job offer. Timings: • 20 minutes team work • 2 minutes for each team to report back Scenario
    27. 27. 1. In your groups, familiarise yourself with all the data cards. 2. Choose ALL the cards that YOU think are important and place them on the canvas. 3. As a team you need to whittle them down to 6 cards. Use dot voting to select the most important cards. Step by step process outline Dot voting: each individual gets six coloured stickers to vote for their favourite cards. The cards with the most stickers get to stay on the canvas.
    28. 28. 4. Now that you have your six cards NAME your canvas. 5. Use post-it notes to describe what actions/interactions you would like to perform on your data cards and place them the right side of the canvas. 6. Describe how you got to the canvas where you came from using post-it notes (bottom left). 7. Describe where you would like to go to next using post-it notes (bottom right). Step by step process outline
    29. 29. Synthesis and consolidation of artefacts
    30. 30. Canvas Sort Result #1: Relative priorities of data items and actions
    31. 31. Result #2: Model of the information architecture for the portal
    32. 32. Result #3: Ideas to take into sketching
    33. 33. Survival tip #8: quick & easy prototyping keeps ideas flowing & dev costs low
    34. 34. Our 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: Teach your development (or agile) team the basics Survival tip #4: Mitigate ‘self-as-user’ outlook (use refs) Survival tip #5: Interview experts (pref. in their own lab) Survival tip #6: Try gamestorming with geeks (aka experts) Survival tip #7: Establish your Information Architecture Survival tip #8: Quick prototyping keeps ideas flowing & dev costs low
    35. 35. Mapping survival tips to our case study Knife image from www.sxc.hu/photo/816000 #1-3 #4 #5 #6-7 #8
    36. 36. 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.
    37. 37. Questions?