Guiseppe Getto, Ph.D.

professor, technical communicator, ux consultant, content strategist

A Lean UX Workflow for Smaller Organizations

Though UX is a must for all new applications, small organizations often lag behind in this area. This trend is frequently posed as a resource problem: user experience design (UX) teams, usability testing software, and professional web developers are typically lacking in cash-strapped small businesses, non-profits, and educational institutions, so creating cutting-edge designs may seem impossible. I propose that what is lacking in these settings is actually knowledge of effective design workflows, however, not resources. What is lacking is a sound understanding of UX and an effective means of mobilizing existing resources.

People using post-it notes in a lean UX process

Image source: http://bit.ly/1LA1Gal

What Lean UX Looks Like

In my recent presentation for the Symposium on Communicating Complex Information, I presented the following lean UX workflow for use by smaller organizations:

  • Discovering issues
  • User segmentation
  • Prototyping
  • Usability testing

Recently championed by Jeff Gothelf, lean UX is an approach that tries to move as efficiently as possible through the design process.

Discovering Issues

When I first start working with a client, I am looking to discover the central problems in their design, or proposed design, as efficiently and effectively as possible. This stage can include task analysis, heuristic evaluation, and contextual inquiry.

Essentially, I’m trying to:

  • Learn as much as I can about the context of the application
  • Learn as much as I can about use cases for the application
  • Go through the application as an expert evaluator

User Segmentation

Also called “customer segmentation,” breaking test users into demographic sub-groups allows UX designers to test the reactions of particular kinds of customers to simple tasks. These demographics can come from the client, a survey of existing users, or focus groups with potential users.

In this stage, I’m:

  • Identifying what kinds of people might want to use the application
  • Understanding what attributes are central to these people
  • Planning how I might recruit some of these people

Prototyping

Prototyping refers to creating a lo-fi or hi-fi mockup of an application. This can be anything from a drawing on paper to a clickable prototype made with software (I like UXPin for this) to a prototype built with HTML and CSS or a CMS like WordPress.

Here, I’m:

  • Trying to depict some of the central functions of the application
  • Thinking about how users navigate through the application
  • Thinking about what functions I’d like to test

Usability Testing

One of the most commonly understood stages of the UX process, usability testing is also sometimes misunderstood as an optional stage. Like Jakob Nielsen, I don’t know how anyone can call themselves a UX designer if they’re not testing.

For me, the point of usability testing is:

  • Learning more about users!
  • Testing some use cases for the application (tasks + functions)
  • Testing the validity of the application as a coherent whole

Repeat as Necessary

The best part about choosing a lean process, is that it’s easy to repeat. You can run this process in as little as a few days if you’re on a tight timeline and have good access to test users (which is becoming less and less of a barrier with organizations that find users for you). More importantly: before rolling out a new feature, redesign, or even just a simple tweak, you can use this process to test your application before releasing it to market. Even usability testing alone improves an application by 38% on average.

What Else?

Think I’ve missed an essential element of lean UX? Let me know below.

Using Personas in UX Research

I recently participated in a webinar for TryMyUI in which I explained the process of building and using personas.

Here’s a full recording of my talk:

Here’s just the SlideShare:

Why Are Personas Important?

Personas are archetypal users crafted from data gathered during UX research. They are most commonly developed from user interviews, but actually they can come from any kind of data (e.g. usability tests, analytics, surveys, etc.).

Personas are important, because they help designs team see users as the messy, complicated people that they are. Some folks I’ve encountered think personas are a bit hokey, but actually they are quite powerful.

Here are just a few ways personas can be used:

  • As a means to depict trends in user research data in a non-numerical manner
  • As a means to design for conflicts between different types of users
  • As a means to hone a business model toward particular types of users
  • As a means of predicting how a certain type of user will behave
  • As a guide for developers when test users aren’t immediately available
  • As a means for talking about UX with a variety of non-UX stakeholders (investors, clients new to UX, customer councils, product managers, executives, etc.)

What Does a Persona Look Like?

There are a lot of different methods for creating, displaying, and using personas. Most personas have the following elements:

  • Name
  • Photo
  • Demographic info (age, gender, race, etc.)
  • User story: what details are specific to this type of user?
  • Key motivations: what drives this type of user to use a particular type of application?
  • Goals: what is this type of user trying to accomplish with the application?
  • Pain points: what does this type of user most often struggle with?

Here’s a great template for creating personas: http://learnshareprosper.com/tools/persona_profile_template.doc

Learning UX: Perspectives from the Classroom and the Boardroom

I have taught at the college level for over ten years now, including several classes in UX. During that time, I’ve also mentored a lot of new teachers. The question that comes up time and again is: “how do you balance it all?” In this post, I’ll explain why this question is key to not only teaching, but UX as well.

I like to show new teachers this image:

An image with a person talking and one listening and the words "Teaching is listening... learning is talking." The same goes for UX.

Image source: http://bit.ly/1Elxziy

Most people get teaching wrong, I tell them. It’s about listening, not talking. What are your students telling you? What are they trying to say? What are you missing?

The same goes for UX, my umbrella term for the field that contains everyone who is building websites and other online applications, but who isn’t doing code. The best way to learn UX is to pay attention to your users. What are your users telling you? What are they trying to tell you? What are you missing?

In a recent interview on how I train people to do UX, I said:

The first thing I teach my students is how to see things from the user’s point-of-view. I try to teach them that user needs come first, and all else comes second. That being said, the first “all else” I teach them about is business process. How does UX fit into a business model?

Just like teaching, UX is about listening, listening to the stories that people have to tell. Then you have to take those stories and see how they line up with your business model, and revise accordingly.

UX Is Contextual

When I introduce people to UX, whether that is as a consultant or a teacher, the first thing I tell them is that UX is about understanding the contexts users are coming from. Whether you are creating prototypes for the next big application, writing content for a website, or curating knowledge for skilled experts, you have to understand the contexts of your users.

This includes all parts of the design process:

  • Preliminary research
  • Prototyping
  • Usability testing
  • Maintenance

At each point in that process, you have to understand what your users are thinking. What are their expectations? What are their needs?

There are a variety of methods to help you answer these questions, but this is essentially my workflow for answering them:

  • Figure out your business model. Here’s my favorite template for this stage. Essentially, you need to think what your application provides to people, and how that translates into tasks users will perform with the application.
  • Figure out who the users are. What kinds of people are they? What are their basic demographics (age, technology preferences, ethnicity, languages spoken, etc.).
  • Interview some people who fit these demographics. In order to understand your users, you need to talk to some real people about what they like, what they dislike, and in general understand how the kind of technology you’re dealing with fits into their life. This information then becomes the basis for personas.
  • Create a prototype for the application. This can be paper, or you can use a drawing or prototyping tool. I like UXPin, and I’ll talk about why in an upcoming post.
  • Test the prototype with some users. Once you understand who your users are and how they interact with your business model, you’re ready to test.
  • Repeat as needed. This process never ends. If you want to keep doing well, keep getting new users, and keep improving your business, you have to keep doing this process.

But, I Don’t Get It: How Do I Become a UX Designer? Or What If I Need One?

This will be the topic for an upcoming post, but feel free to ask any questions you have about the current post below.

I’m also doing a webinar next week with TryMyUI on some of these topics, so feel free to check that out as well.

A banner for my upcoming webinar on finding nuance in UX research

3 Fields to Pay Attention to: UX, Technical Communication, and Content Strategy

User experience design (or UX), technical communication, and content strategy are three interrelated disciplines involving communication and digital technologies. And they are all set to grow by leaps and bounds over the next decade.

A supposed ux designer, technical communicator, or content strategist contemplates a computer screen

Image source: http://bit.ly/1uCTv8I

According to a recent CNN Money’s Best Jobs in America, UX designers enjoy a median salary of close to $100,000 a year and the field is set to grow 22% by 2022. According to this same source, content strategy boasts a median salary of $80,000 and is set to grow by 32% by 2022. With a median salary of over $65,000, technical communication is set to grow 15% by 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As these are fairly technical fields, however, they can be off-putting when you first encounter them. If you enjoy working in a fast-paced, collaborative environment, crafting effective communication, and using digital technologies, you should definitely consider learning as much as you can about one (or more) of these three specializations.

What Is… “UX” “Technical Communication” “Content Strategy”?!

This is a question I get a lot from students, clients, and even longtime professionals who have been working in the technology sector. I tell them that all three of these emerging disciplines involve using communication to help people make better choices. Essentially, though:

  • UX involves helping to improve the overall experiences people have with digital technologies such as websites and mobile applications
  • technical communication involves communicating about specialized topics to a variety of audiences using digital technologies
  • content strategy involves improving the management and quality of content published by an organization, often via the organization’s website

What Are Skill Sets Specific to These Fields?

This is another question I get a lot from people who encounter these terms for the first time. I tend to provide the following as some of the essential skill sets behind these disciplines:

Core Skill Sets

  • You work effectively in messy, complex communication situations
  • You have a strong desire to help other people
  • You have a passion for effective communication, in any medium
  • You’re not afraid to jump in and learn any digital technology out there

Field-Specific Skill Sets

UX

  • user research (interviews, surveys, field studies, etc.)
  • usability testing
  • accessibility
  • information architecture
  • interaction design
  • visual design

Technical communication

  • translation of complex topics for any audience, including audiences from a variety of different cultures
  • documentation software like RoboHelp and MadCap Flare
  • a flare for the mastery of seemingly mundane, technical details like specifications, jargon, and citation systems (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.)
  • highly effective written and spoken communication
  • the ability to manage diverse types of content across a wide variety of technologies

Content strategy

  • content auditing
  • content modeling
  • search engine optimization (SEO)
  • social media
  • highly effective written communication
  • the ability to manage diverse types of content across a wide variety of technologies
  • open source content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla!, the oManual, and DITA

Okay, I’m Sold: How Do I Get Started?

This is a more complicated question, but essentially: you learn!

In an upcoming post I will go into some of the ways you can learn about these fields, find consultants like me to help your organization, and even launch a career in one of them.