I have been selected to present next month at Sapphire Now for SAP in Orlando, where I will be talking about design-led innovation and inclusion in design. I will also be present to talk with attendees about SAP’s Smart Cities. So if you’ll be attending Sapphire, please come find me! I’d love to chat.
As I mentioned in my last post, I presented at a local conference in October of last year. Well, my participation in that conference led to an opportunity to teach Design Research Methods at a local university as a part of their requirements for their design tracts. I jumped at the chance to do so and I poured everything I had into the class design from November to January along side doing my day job as a blockchain design consultant.
We are now two weeks away from midterms, so I’m taking some time to reflect on the curriculum I’ve put together and what we’ve done so far. I’m taking the time to do it here, because it’s always nice to be able to look back on it later and because others may find it useful. That, and this blog has always been related to my work and my evolution as a researcher, designer, and now teacher.
To begin, I had to consider what would be some of the essential lessons designers should take from a research methods class. The designers in the class span the gamut from traditional design to graphic design, to interaction design, and more. To satisfy the needs of all and the course, I had to come up with a way to present research methodology to them in a universal way, and I had to consider the fact there were 30 people signed up for the class. So, this class has a slight interaction design focus, but the students are able to stretch beyond that if they find a way to do so within the goals and structure of the class.
Overall Class Goals
As presented in the catalog and the syllabus:
This course will explore a variety of behavioral and attitudinal design research methods. Students will walk away with an understanding of how to plan, analyze, and execute quantitative and qualitative methods, understand ethical concerns related to understanding users, and how to deliver artifacts that summarize your synthesized findings.
This course will help you to:
- Understand how design research fits in the design process and how to apply research results to design projects
- Describe and identify uses of various types of design research methodologies
- Plan, manage and execute various design research methods
- Understand ethical concerns related to design research
- Understand how to report on research in an engaging and useful way
My overall design is an applied one where the students learn about design methods by carrying out research projects on a universal theme. For this semester, I chose social media. I felt this was a great choice because of how ubiquitous it is, because it can be utilized in many different types of environments, and because it is not
They are tackling this topic in groups of 3 to 5. Though they are working in groups, each has individual assignments that contribute to the group work in addition to working collaboratively on various assignments with their fellow group mates.
The first half of our 3 hour class time is based on discussion of the topics (not a lecture!), the second half of class they work together on their projects. The first half of their semester focuses on generative research where they interview & survey people about their social media experiences, not products. The goal of this is to understand the space and to surface problems that currently exist. The second half of the semester focuses on evaluative research where they will have to design something using their research results and then test it using various methods with live users.
We are using tools such as a class Slack with private group rooms, Box with private group folders, RealTimeBoard with private group boards, and a class blog where the students have access to their entire syllabus, all assignment requirements, and thorough write-ups of each class with additional materials provided as needed so they can go back and review what we discussed.
Because this is just a beginning research methodology course for designers, I am touching on a lot of different parts of the research process at a high level to get them familiar with them, what they are, what they are used for, why they are used, and how and when to use them. For their first assignment, we started with a Research Guide where they had to come up with a topic, assumptions, a minimum of 2 hypotheses, a minimum of 2 research questions for each, and then use all of that to create their interview script. They completed this work in class so that I could assist them as they worked through it.
Before stepping out to conduct their first interview, all of the students had to familiarize themselves with research ethics. We touched on topics such as honesty, objectivity, integrity, carefulness, openness, respect, confidentiality, social responsibility, competence, legality, non-discrimination, and human subjects protection. Additionally, though this is just a class project, they all had to provide informed consent to their interviewees and had to have them sign a consent form. Before each and every respondent interaction, they had to explain what the study was about, that the respondent could back out at any time, that there were no right or wrong answers, and that their answers would be kept confidential. Confidentiality was preserved through the recording and transcription where no personal identifying information was gathered or used.
They then set out to conduct their first interview with someone they knew. One of their groupmates transcribed this interview and provided a critique for improvements to take into consideration before conducting their second. They all then took the next class to reflect on their first interviews and their critiques, then updated their scripts in class as needed. They used this updated script to conduct a second interview that they then self-transcribed. The caveat for the second interview was to interview someone they did not know. To find this person, their job was to ask the first person they interviewed to recommend someone. This way they got a taste of snowball sampling. We didn’t focus on recruiting, but I did bring it up as an important part of the methodology in the field.
This process gave them a chance to get used to the idea of interviewing by first doing so with someone familiar. They were then able to take that experience and build on it before they had to try to interview someone they didn’t know. They also had the opportunity to learn how to give and take, then apply critiques. Critiquing is something we will continue to use throughout the rest of the semester as they will each critique all of their groupmates for their final and midterm and will also critique the group presentations. We will also have a full in-class critique towards the end of the semester where the students can get feedback from other groups to incorporate for their final.
Analysis & Synthesis
All of these interviews were then placed on RealTimeBoard so that they could work on inductively coding and theming collaboratively for their analysis and synthesis. They are also to take this data and create three different types of generative deliverables including personas, journey maps, and user stories. Though we are using a form of visual coding via an interactive whiteboard for this part of our research, they will be introduced to an excel method for the evaluation portion of class. This way they get a taste of both and are able to adopt in the future
Surveys & Triangulation
Throughout their analysis and synthesis process, they are to be looking out for research gaps. They are to take these gaps and formulate survey questions to help fill them. We will be doing this in class tonight. They will then use their survey and their interview data to provide triangulated results for their midterm report.
Results & Recommendations
They will then take all of this and create a Results and Recommendations report, a Creative Brief (specifically for designers), and a class presentation for their midterm. This way they take into account all of the different audiences that will have to consume their research. The goal of their presentation is to make it engaging and to tell a story. The class will have 5 minutes to ask questions and each classmate in the audience will provide a critique to the group, which will be consolidated and provided as a part of the overall midterm feedback.
Following their generative research results and recommendations report, they will all receive a set of business needs that they will have to take into consideration along with their user needs to design an experience that addresses both. This way they not only learn why to conduct research and how to do it but also how to apply it and how to deal with situations where the business needs and user needs don’t always align.
Low Fidelity Design
As a part of the short design phase, they will be creating sketches, flows, & storyboards. If their design is interaction based, they will also have to create wireframes. Otherwise, they will have to come up with a creative way to display their designed experience so that it can be tested. I’ve already received feedback about the class being too interaction design based, so we’ll see what they come up with if they decide to do something else.
Testing & Iterating
All students will be required to complete 2 usability tests/evaluations using at minimum 2 methodologies for paper prototype testing. Most of this research will be evaluative/formative in nature rather than summative or for validation as we are keeping their designs very low fidelity so they can quickly iterate for additional feedback.
Design Critiquing & Heuristic Reviews
In addition to their usability testing/evaluations each design will go through a heuristic review and a peer critique. After all testings and reviews, the students will have gone through 3 iterations and will be able to provide actionable objectives to design and development teams.
Their final presentation will be a culmination of their entire process including where they started and the path they took to reach their end design. They will have to do it in such a way that an executive would be able to walk away with what they need while at the same time everyone including project managers, designers, and anyone else working on the experience will understand what their next steps are. My hope is to bring in a few “Executives” for the final presentations to ask questions.
The best part of this class, I think, is the curated readings. Once the class is over, I’ll post a link to all of the sources they’ve been tasked with reading. Their individual homework is to read all of the weekly assigned readings and then ask 3 questions for clarification. These questions help inform our discussion for the following class. Though not all of the students have participated (and this will count off for their grade), most have and their questions have been really interesting! I’ll also post some of those and the answers. My guess is that if my students have these questions, it is likely others do as well!
As with my students who I have provided access to feedback forms throughout the entire semester, I’m always eager and willing to take and learn from feedback. This is my first semester teaching in an academic sense, so I know there is a lot to learn from a pedagogy perspective. Please feel free to comment on this post or contact me if you have any feedback. I look forward to hearing from you!
I missed posting last month because a lot was happening! Of course, for everyone who is involved with technology and data at a global level, we have all been touched in some way by GDPR. I know my inbox was flooded with emails on the changes to everyone’s privacy policies and probably yours was, too. It’s worth a read to learn more about it and why it’s such a big deal and how it’s affecting businesses all over the world.
For me personally, May was a big month because I changed jobs after almost a decade at The Planet/SoftLayer + IBM where I had been a design lead for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), IAM (identity and access management), and BSS (accounts) and then head of the Strategic Insights team for Public Cloud Research (covering all of Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service). I moved from there to SAP Leonardo Services where I took the position of a Blockchain Design Consultant. This means I’ve been heads down learning all I can about Blockchain and my new company for the last 3 weeks.
Here’s where I have to have a sense of humor around these two seemingly unrelated subjects considering the paradox of Blockchain and GDPR.
To summarize the article, given the immutable state of data in a Blockchain, there is no way to update or delete it. In developer’s parlance, there is no way to perform the UD operations of basic CRUD. In fact, the entire acronym has been updated for blockchain to be CRAB (create, retrieve, append, burn). The problem is, does burn accommodate the “right to be forgotten” and “erasure of data” portions of GDPR? If personal data is in the Blockchain, then the answer is no.
That said, there is a workaround as discussed via creating a hash and a link in the Blockchain that refers back to PII (personally identifiable information) that is stored OUTSIDE of the Blockchain. This results in the PII data only being accessible through an encrypted hash and link to it provided in the Blockchain that can only be decrypted by those who have the key. To ensure the data hasn’t been tampered with, the data retrieved via the link would need to provide its own hash that can be compared with the hash in the blockchain. If the two match, the data has not been modified. This is GDPR compliant because all of the data off-chain can be deleted thus making the hash/link in the blockchain useless. However, the blockchain is then reduced to an access control mechanism to data that remains centrally owned and located rather than a decentralized encrypted transparent immutable replicated ledger of actual data that is owned by everyone.
This results in the following:
The goal of GPDR is to “give citizens back the control of their personal data, whilst imposing strict rules on those hosting and ‘processing’ this data, anywhere in the world.” Also, one of the things GDPR states is that data “should be erasable”. Since throwing away your encryption keys is not the same as ‘erasure of data’, GDPR prohibits us from storing personal data on a blockchain level. Thereby losing the ability to enhance control of your own personal data.
As you can see, I may have sipped a bit of the Blockchain Kool-aid.
On top of all of those changes, I also finished a side hustle where I completely redesigned a billing system for a friend’s startup.
In the coming months, I’ll be posting more about Blockchain along with some Machine Learning, IoT, as well as other forms of AI from a user and design perspective along with my ever-present posts on the Internet, privacy, security, gaming, and social media. I imagine the various topics will merge at some point down the line. I’m excited to be here in the edge technologies space. It’s exactly what I told my circle of friends I wanted to work on at the turn of the year. Thank you to SAP for making that a reality.
Having lived in Hawaii for almost four years this article in the Washington Post on people leaving Hawaii hits home in multiple places.
This picture is one of the last I took, December of 2016, while we were living on the island of Oahu. It was a beautiful place to live and as the hashtag states, #luckywelivehawaii, we felt lucky indeed. But, that luck only went so far. Working in the technology industry as a remote worker for an off-island company (we had one office on the island that I never visited – it was mostly for transient workers going between the far east and the US) I was able to continue to work in my field. Had I not had my remote job, however, I would have never found work on the island.
I interviewed for a job before moving out there, hoping that I’d be a great fit coming from the mainland with all of my experience and expertise (which by the way you should never do – Hawaii has her own way of doing things and it should be appreciated). The problem was, though the cost of living was at least 3x what we were used to in Texas, they paid a 3rd of what I was making to do the same work. In all my time living on the island, I never saw another job available in my field. And yes, I did look.
What I found instead were other workers like me who worked for mainland offices, on mainland hours, from our tiny island in the middle of the Pacific. There weren’t many of us, but we did exist. Other technologists, I found in the tech startup community, mostly tried to develop opportunities that focused on capitalizing on the tourist market, because it was the only market. Either that or they did like Hello Makana, a company that ships Hawaiian delicacies all over the world, and catered to the people who had left and wanted a reminder of home.
Still, others who were once the white-collar workers of the mainland fell so much in love with the island that they found a way to make it work by doing things like becoming bee-keepers, tour guides, or were a part of the service industry in jobs like bartending and masseuses.
What I will never forget is the disparity between the tourists, the rich who make money off the backs of the tourists, and then the natives who were either exploited for the tourists or forced to work menial jobs because that’s all there was available. In the worst cases, they were destitute or completely homeless. Of those who were able to afford homes, they did so because they had multiple extended family members or multiple families living under one roof. Those homes they could afford were dilapidated, old, and generally unkept due to the cost of doing so.
Now, this is in no way meant to be representative of every possible Hawaiian experience on the island, just a snapshot of what my experience was there and one that falls in line with what the article reports. The natives will always have a soft spot in my heart. During our time there we did our best to avoid most of the tourist trappings and instead sought out experiences of the beauty and the nature of the island that helped the islands in one way or another. That will always be my recommendation to anyone who visits. Skip the tv dinner version and find a way to support the local culture and community any way you can.
Would I have stayed had I been able to find equal work for equal pay? It’s a possibility. What was more important were the opportunities afforded to my children, not only as children but also as adults. While we had to leave the island, part of it will always live within us. My children are better for having experienced their early childhood there. And, though they may never remember it, I have a lot of photographic evidence to help them relive as much as possible.
To read more about the cultural perspective of native islanders here is an interesting piece I recently came across from a cultural anthropologist.
Here is a perspective from native Hawaiians on their culture versus the culture that is sold to tourists.
Here is yet another cultural look.
These are some notes I put together for my team last year. They are based off of a few books I was reading at the time and when I can remember those, I’ll post them for reference. We never made use of these due to reasons other than want and need, but others made find them useful.
These are just notes. Feel free to fill in any gaps as needed or ask questions if you have any.
Creating a User Experience Strategy
An experience strategy is a guide for verticals / projects to be referred back to and updated as the vertical and/or project matures. It is a way to maintain focus on the end goal, providing the user with an experience, and is to be shared with and used by everyone on the team. For our purposes, they would likely live in confluences and our bullets would be numbered so we can refer to a specific portion of it when needed. Personas and journey maps as well as other UX artifacts (research before release / usability tests after the fact) would be parts of the experience strategy.
A strong plan will guide decisions about how the business executes, maintains, and manages experiences to create value for the customers and the business. These should be invested in and managed as well as cultivated and nurtured. A strong experience strategy not only makes it clear what to do, but also what NOT to do.
An expression of the experience you hope customers will have. A statement.
Bulleted list of experience requirements (not ui / developer requirements, not tasks / goals – it’s all about the EXPERIENCE)
user behavior, motivations, context, meaning
usefulness / desirableness
how does it help the user accomplish what they want to get done
how is it (or can be) different / innovative
What do people want to accomplish?
How does this activity fit into their lives?
How can we help deliver on those desires?
Hypothesis based on
personas – which are project based, but stem from our basic set
research – which is project based, but builds on all other research – must be actionable and durable
previous testing – which can come from anywhere, but should help craft project based
Against user stories
With Users / Analytics
Iterate and Evolve:
Take all previous information, build on it, then start over if needed.
Strategy should bring clarity and should act as a sign post to show the company where ewe are going and what we need to do to get there.
Consider making it visual when possible.
Leveling Information – so we all start out with the same definitions.
activities in which people engage
drive and shape behaviors
– understanding the basic drives that lead people to do certain things in certain contexts
help provide meaning to the motivations
learn by doing
worthwhile? important? necessary? required? needed? changes based on context and motivation
A user’s experience emerges from:
Perception is preceded by sensation and followed by cognition if bottom up, if bottom down – then knowledge influences everything (Gestalt).
Ability – consider memory, it includes sensory (get attention), working and encoding (requires heavy attention), long-term and retention (storage). Recall falls off dramatically after 1 day – this is an issue for users who do not / would not / don’t need to / shouldn’t have to – interact with us or a particular tool / experience on a daily basis. Always something to consider. Reduce memory load / ability requirement whenever possible.
Flow – form follows function. Affordance means there is no need to learn. Avoid multi-usability (modes).
Form hypothesis – test hypothesis whenever possible early and then test again with analytics later. (See my pyramid)
Users / Personas in terms of behaviors, motivations, context and meaning:
Who? – are they
What? – do they need, want, use, are they trying to accomplish and is there a better way to do it
Why? – do they need it, want it, use it, like it, dislike it
Where? – do they need it, want it, use it, expect to find it / access it
How? – do they need it, want it, use it, does it fit into their workflow
Theories should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.
Acknowledge and embrace the complexity
Look for differentiators here – avoid parity, novelty, and trying to “be the best” at everything – just boil it down to the essentials, and then go a step further into the murky and complex chaos of the user until you come out on the other side with something that resonates with the users behaviors and motivations while considering the context and meaning
I get a few inquiries each semester from students looking for information on how to get into user experience design, especially those with an anthropology background. I generally try to respond to each of these separately as they each have their own perspective and needs, however, this semester I am trying to get my dissertation defended on top of my every day job as a UXD (which is getting more complicated by the minute). So, rather than leave these unanswered, I am providing a public response here that includes the most common things I share. If you have comments or questions, please leave them! It will be easier for me to respond to those here than individual emails and you may help someone else who has a similar inquiry.
Thank you for reaching out to me. Let me start out by saying that having a background in anthropology will lend itself greatly to UX design, however, it is only one part. My suggestion is to consider opportunities where you will be asked to learn to program or script (even just HTML/CSS) and have real users use what you create. This is not necessarily where your career path as a UXD will take you, but creating something, having users use it, and then having to “fix” it to make it better for them, will provide you with insight that no degree program will ever do.
After that, I suggest looking into classes in cognitive psychology and information architecture or information behavior. Adding those to your anthropology perspective will help you find out what users want and then understand what they really need – which may be two separate things. 😉
As for internships, consider looking into the agency world. What I mean by that is marketing/creative agencies that do campaigns for other companies. Not that you want to go into marketing, I prefer the high tech/application world myself, but it allows you to see how UX is applied to multiple groups of people and projects in a short amount of time. A lot of times you can find UXD or IA (information architecture) opportunities – both of which would be beneficial to you.
I also suggest looking into these authors: Steve Krug, Don Norman, Jakob Nielsen, Jesse James Garrett, Luke Wroblewski, Lois Rosenfield, and Peter Morville (These are just off the top of my head, they will give you a good introduction to user experience design – but there are plenty more out there to learn from!)
And I suggest taking a look at the UX Slack channel that has UXers from all over the world lending their perspectives to the field (and it may lead to internship opportunities).
I hope that helps!
There is a lot that could be added to this, however, I feel it is a great place for people to start. I definitely recommend everyone going into user experience design have some sort of programming or scripting background where people have had to use what you create. My biggest failure as a developer led me to becoming a UXD and in my particular field I use skills I learned as a systems administrator/developer all the time. Not that I do those things anymore, but my past experiences and my understanding of those things definitely help inform me how to make those things easier for others to do. And really, that’s the best part of being an anthropologist and a UXD – being able to use your own experiences to inform your designs. That is, after all, what participant observation is all about!
To learn more about my professional experience, please visit my design and ethnography site.
p.s. This may be edited and updated as I have time. If you have questions/comments – please post them!
Following on the heels of last weeks post on my UX Pyramid, I thought I’d talk more about the methods one can use to produce the information that would be used to create the deliverables mentioned in it.
I am an anthropologist first and foremost, so being able to use my anthropological methods in user research is important to me. This particular method uses journaling as a means to gain insights into what the user actually does in the system by having the user document what they do when they do it rather than trying to run them through various fabricated scenarios that we as designers might come up with. This allows us to really see the application (this could be software, games, mobile apps etc.) from their perspective rather than trying to force our perspective on them.
As a part of this process, we ask the user to not only document what they are doing, but also to provide screen shots and any other collateral that might be of note (such as information about another site that may do what they want in a better way).
With the information gathered in the journaling portion of the study, we are then able to provide the users with access to new tools or scenarios we are working on that they may be interested in using. This way we get better feedback as these are parts of the system these particular users actually use.
This research then allows for the segmentation of the user base not only by the type of user they are, but also by the way they use the system and the parts of the application they use the most. All of which provides ample information for personas, concepts, process flows, story boards, and wireframes.
Every now and then my work bleeds over into my blog here and this is one of those such occasions.
I was recently tasked with creating a slide deck to help spotlight all of the things that User Experience (UX) Design could do above and beyond wireframes. As a part of that process, I collapsed a previous slide deck I had crafted about 5 years ago into a single infographic. Though it is a stacked pyramid, it should be thought of more of a cycle. The pyramid was built to illustrate how giving a user experience design a solid foundation would help inform the experience throughout the entire design process, which starts well before any boxes and arrows are placed on a screen. Once you get to the top of the pyramid, the analysis of the design should feed back into the discovery process and reinform the strategy for improvements.
This is hardly news for most of us, however, I always enjoy a simple, concise, and useful infographic – so I thought others might as well. Please feel free to share and iterate on this. I always appreciate the feedback.
Ah to be a remote worker!
I have worked from multiple parts of the world with people from all over the world, but this is the first time I’ve been sequestered to a single place with a single in person contact for multiple days on end. Here’s a bit of what it has been like to go from being some what of a highly motivated social butterfly both online and in person to someone who fell into social isolation and un-motivation before I even realized it and what I did about it.
When my husband was assigned to Fort Bliss in El Paso Texas, I was excited because that meant we could actually live together and I could still keep up with things like work and school. The company I work for gave me the opportunity to work remote and I was able to fill my semester with all online classes. We then traded in my sports car for an SUV and headed off to West Texas.
After a month of spotty internet connections from the hotel we were staying in, the Starbucks down the street, and the public wifi on base, I was ever so thankful to finally get setup in our home off base. What I didn’t realize is that I would for 6 out of 7 days have only 1 person I would physically see and converse with now that I was at home. While I’m ever so happy this person is my husband, and after a year of him being in a foreign country I am definitely not complaining, I had no idea the effects this would have on my psyche.
What I have learned is that it’s not just about the fact that I am home alone all day. No, it’s also the fact that even if I wanted to leave I do not have the option to do so. You see, we opted to have a single vehicle because well it was cheaper and I didn’t have to drive to work. So, though it made sense at the time, I now see the error of my ways. This situation has set me up with the overwhelming feeling of being trapped in my own house!
After two and a half months of this (July, August, September), I found myself feeling more and more down, uninspired, and completely unmotivated. What was more alarming was I found that after the 3 to 5 days a month I spent in Dallas in the office and on campus I’d come home feeling renewed and refreshed only to have it all drain out of me within a day or two. For those who know me, this is the very opposite of who I am. I generally have so many projects going I don’t know what to do with myself! To go from that to having absolutely no interest in anything was a giant red flag for me.
I tried many tips and tricks including:
- Getting up and dressed for work even if you’re not leaving the house
- Having a specific room in the house where work is conducted
- Taking the occasional afternoon out where I worked on base until my husband got off
Unfortunately, none of these seemed to make a difference. I had to find a way to fix this or it was going to drive me crazy, and not in the figurative sense. To that end, I started running. Yes, running. I don’t know what it is, whether it is just getting out of the house farther than the few streets I normally go to walk my dogs or the resulting endorphins in my head – but it seems to be working. It helps now that it’s cooler outside so I’m not killing myself in the Texas heat. It’s also nice because it’s something physical and I completely leave all of my work and school work and RA work behind to just have a bit of time to myself, for myself.
Being the self-competitive person I am, it’s also turned into a bit of a game of going further, faster, longer. Though I love my computers and I love being online, sometimes you just have to step away from it all to get some perspective. This taught me something else as well, I need time away from work. Working from home means for most people, myself included, more hours and more varied work times.
I found myself finishing something Sunday night that I could have had completed the Friday before had I just had it in me to do it. Now I turn off my work email and chat at 5pm. My work day is done and it doesn’t start again until 8am. This means I HAVE to get my work done during the hours allotted. I get even more motivated when I spend my lunch hour running as that means I can’t do work during lunch time either! (Which I was guilty of doing while I was in the office all the time.)
This change in my schedule also meant I had to tell my boss, no I cannot work on that tonight – giving me time to set aside specific hours to work on school work as well. Funny enough, this in turn gave me more time to do things I enjoy doing outside of work and school like gaming! Putting exercise and more structure in my day was a brilliant way for me to get out of my funk.
Last week, not only did I run every day (2.5 miles), but I also took 3 quizzes, 1 test, participated in class discussions, conducted a bit of heuristic evaluation for my research assistanceship as well as completing all of my office work before the weekend. In addition to all of that, I also got a lot of work done for my wedding (yes, I’m already married – but we didn’t have a wedding as we go married at the US Embassy in Seoul, South Korea). This included designing and ordering save the dates and proper invitations as well as getting a photographer, a cake baker, a DJ and working with all of my bride’s maids to get their dresses ordered. This also meant that I actually got to play video games last weekend as I actually had free time for once.
So, there you have it. Now I actually get to take advantage of some of the freedoms granted to me by working from home even if I don’t have a vehicle and only see a single person in person 6 out of 7 days a week. All it took was a little organization and thinking outside of my computer screen.
My next couple of posts will go into some of the interesting things I’ve experienced in online gaming as of last as well as how I am using a Facebook group to organize my wedding. This is just my way of getting back into writing something at least a little relevant here. My hope is that someone gets some use out of this. If nothing else – this place will not look as dormant as it has of late.
So, I know this has been a widely written about topic from multiple sides of the equation. I have to say though, if there is one thing I’ve learned from Agile – and from Organization Behavior in general – there is no “one best way” to do anything. That said, I’ll give a short explanation of our version of Agile, what I do, and how I work within our Agile environment as a UXD.
Let’s talk about Agile:
Agile is defined as iterative incremental development methodology. What? This means the product we are working on has new features and bug fixes released, in our case, every two weeks. Everyone involved in the process works together within those two weeks to make it happen from graphic designers to quality assurance testers. This is different from waterfall where the discovery, architecture, development, design, testing, and release phases are all very separate from each other, happen in a specific order, and in the end the product is “final”.
While that may not sound revolutionary by any means, people moving from waterfall to agile tend to have a rough start. Biggest reason why? Things change, nothing is solid, it’s not final, and the team needs to be agile enough to roll with the punches. Let’s put it this way, I haven’t seen a statement of work or product requirements grid for nearly 4 years and I’ve never been finished with a project.
That brings us to the next part. What is it that I do?
User Experience Design:
Well, my official title is User Experience Designer (UXD). In short, I design user experiences.
So, what is a user experience? A user experience is what the user sees, feels, hears, touches, uses, understands, believes, and comes away from any application with. This means I’m a bit of a business analyst, information architect, interaction designer, art director, user researcher, usability expert, heuristic reviewer, and decipherer of languages of developers and business processes past.
But, what do I actually do? My main function is to do all of the above to create wireframes and application requirements from which developers take direction and create an application. Then I go through continuous reviews and revisions throughout the development cycle with the developers where we have to make changes and compromises due to time, resources, and hardware / software (API) restrictions that do not surface until we are already neck deep in the iteration. During that process I’m researching features for the next release and working those into wireframes which include processes and interactions that are then translated into stories. Let’s just say where people normally have peaks and valleys in their work, my work tends to run at a constantly high level.
Our Agile Process:
The other part of the Agile process is the use of stories and tasks by the developers which help direct how they spend their time and what they spend their time on for each iteration. A story is basically the development requirements for each piece of development occurring during an iteration. Each story has a set of tasks and subtasks that developers then divvy amongst themselves. Each story / task / subtask has an amount of time the developer thinks it will take to do, then as they work they report against it the actual amount of time it took. This gives us an idea from iteration to iteration what can be accomplished by the team given the tasks at hand. This helps for planning and keeping the team on task.
Our original process included a meeting to come up with the stories based on the wireframes for the devs to follow. This meeting was important because the stories had to be understood by the developers and had to capture all of the specific dev particulars that a wireframe doesn’t necessarily convey. After that meeting there were meetings to decide tasks, subtasks, and time allotted for each.
Getting Agile with Agile:
During the last two iterations we’ve change it up a bit where I wrote out the stories while I was doing the wireframes and we now use the story meeting as a brainstorming meeting for the devs. This was an important change which allows the developers time to actually collaborate together on the thinking part of development rather than just banging away on their separate pieces of code. It also makes the meeting less mind numbing and monotonous as they actually get to throw ideas out there and bounce concepts off of each other whereas before they had no time to do so. While there are specific Agile processes, we go with what works and the best part about that is it allows us to be agile with it.
There you go! Not the most earth shattering ideas or methods out there, but I think it’s always nice to document what works and to share what you can when you can.