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Gonzo CX

Work that researches well is predicted on what has gone before. Anything different, or out of the ordinary, will test badly, for the very reason that it is different – Bill Bembach

The majority of my work is as it should be… Neat, proper, rule-abiding and by the New Rider book. Packed full of user-centred design and interaction principals. The user at the heart of the story just happens to be me. Occasionally I need to indulge myself and that’s when my work gets all a bit ‘Gonzo’.

Maybe I’m wrong, but is it time for us to embrace ‘Gonzo UX’ as a reality of our industry and recognise it for right or wrong as a reality, because as a tool for the current generation of UXers’ who go to work everyday & follow the ‘rules’ but don’t always necessarily believe those rules it’s part of our lives and so many of us with a slight right-brain skew do it. I’m Gonzo and proud.

We pay lip-service to the methods of UX for the sake of our clients and then just do our own thing alot of the time. Exaggerating things to make them cooler & more progressive. We do our UX with claims of objectivity, but really how objective is it once we’ve put our own spin on the results, ignored the average bits of the insight and just pushed things forward rather than to the side – which to be honest is what the passionate few amongst us really want. If you’re not being Gonzo for some briefs then you’re not innovating, you’re optimising.

I almost always end up including a little piece of myself in the story, concocting a solution with me as the protagonist thinking “I’ll call the persona Gerald, they’ll never notice that crafty 30 something advertising exec from London is really me”… Come on, admit it, how many have you have done it?! More than you’d think. So much of what we do is a subjective, artistic endeavour based on our own objectively collected insights as real life consumers. We’re just scared to admit it because we think it somehow cheapens the solutions and the work is less robust because there’s a large wedge of ourselves in it rather than a real-life bloke called Gerald who probably still owns a monotone Nokia from 2003 anyway… And I’m certainly not user-centring a solution around THAT bloke, he sucks! When that proposal goes live deep-down its somewhere comfortably between subjective and objective and as long as it’s still good, where’s the harm in being a bit Gonzo with the approach. It’s still packed full of insight driven work, the insight just happens to be your own. It’s good. It has a place and you shouldn’t be ashamed (as long as you’re racking up success and you can attribute it back to some fuzzy bit of research or insight someone pompous researcher gave you at work).

Lets look at bit more at the detail. Gonzo UX tends to favor style over fact to achieve accuracy — if accuracy is in fact meant to be achieved at all — because we often use our own personal experiences and emotions to provide context for the topic or solution being covered. It disregards the “polished”, edited solution favoured by the esoteric usability cronies and strives for a more gritty, personable approach. Sometimes you see the personality of a solution is just as important as the problem the solution is trying to fix.

If you have a tendency when you’re selling solutions in to use quotations, sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, and profanity then you may in fact be practising Gonzo UX and you don’t even know it.

So as of today I’m actually adding ‘Gonzo UX’ to our companies list of approaches. As a term, for our clients, and I’m going to make sure our team are proud to do it when the time is appropriate.

“What? The client won’t pay for research and insight?” It’s a Gonzo solution.

“Oh my god, that insight work sucks but I’ve only got 2 days to craft a response!” It’s a Gonzo solution.

“This project is just going to be DULL and UNINSPIRING if I follow this research and tailor it to this dudettes life” I’ll go a little bit Gonzo for the sake of making it good rather than average.

Is UX just another name for IA?

The squillion dollar dilemma… A lot of people seem to be talking about user experience (UX) these days. User experience is a very blurry concept. Consequently, many people use the term incorrectly. However, UX depends not only on how something is designed, but on lots of other aspects. It’s a very common misconception that we’re just a new breed of Information Architects – which to some degree we are – if it is equal to information architecture (IA): site maps, wireframes and all that it narrows UX to something less than what it really is.

We don’t JUST do I.A because it’s too subjective. Putting the user at the heart of what we do is really the best way to get near-perfect results. The general consensus is that user experience is the umbrella term that encompasses a wide array of interface-related fields (a term more-or-less established as “Human-Computer Interaction” in academia).

To me, user experience (the tasks, not just the term) is mostly about the qualitative research inputs that inform I.A, I.D and Visual Design. It tells us about all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with a company, its services, and its products. If a website is:

  • 10% Look – visuals, layout, colors, etc.
  • 30% Feel – menus, buttons, controls, etc.
  • 60% User Task Goals – workflow, navigation, objects and relationships, etc.

Then UX as a fuzzy piece of the digital industry is about helping to define the 60% (you might argue that I.A is about defining the 30%). Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

UX is NOT…

…user interface design
…a step in the process
…about technology
…just about usability
…just about the user
…expensive
…easy
…the role of one person or department
…a single discipline
…a choice

UX is the sum total of lots of parts which helps inform any design work from a purely user-centred, objective point of view.

The 5 principals of UX

  • Interacting with a product or service should feel like a good conversation
  • Before you make something, learn about the people who will use it
  • People like and need different things
  • The user is not you, so don’t design for yourself
  • Find out what the user really wants or needs (user research).

So what EXACTLY does UX encompass for me as a practitioner (this is what I sell to our clients as a department within an agency):

Discovery

  • Swot review
  • Stakeholder interviews
  • Literature reviews
  • Heuristic reviews
  • Secondary research

There are 7 types of interaction in todays digital world and UX helps us and clients define what approach to take with a project & ultimately makes sure money is spent in the right areas:

  1. Brand presence (internal & external)
  2. Marketing campaign
  3. Content source
  4. Task-based application
  5. E-commerce and e-learning
  6. Social networking applications
  7. Mobile & on-the-move interaction (urban digital)

Competitive Analysis

  • Identify competitors
  • Identify comparators
  • Auditing
  • Evaluation of structure, segments, ease of use, quality of content, unique features
Competitor analysis has several important roles in strategic planning:
  • To help management understand their competitive advantages/disadvantages relative to competitors
  • To generate understanding of competitors’ past, present (and most importantly) future strategies
  • To provide an informed basis to develop strategies to achieve competitive advantage in the future
  • To help forecast the returns that may be made from future investments (e.g. how will competitors respond to a new product or pricing strategy?

I would define competitor benchmarking as the following:

  • Who are our competitors?
  • What threats do they pose?
  • What is the profile of our competitors?
  • What are the objectives of our competitors?
  • What strategies are our competitors pursuing and how successful are these strategies?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of our competitors?
  • How are our competitors likely to respond to any changes to the way we do business?

User Research

  • Ethnographic research
  • Surveys
  • Contextual inquiry
  • Diaries and portraits
  • Intercept interviews

Information Architecture

  • Content inventory
  • Content modeling
  • Card sorting
  • Taxonomies
  • User journey mapping
  • Site blueprints (high and low fidelity)

Design

  • Low fidelity interaction design
  • Appearance definition

It’s simple really… design software and websites that people don’t hate… that’s what we all want to do:

“In a world where data bits flow abundantly, our minds have developed filters to sift through the overflow of useless and badly designed information. While design must appeal to our sense of aesthetic, it must not stand in the way of delivery, cause complications or introduce stumbling blocks. Rather, the presence of design should simplify and facilitate our everyday life, enable us to accomplish our tasks more effectively and help us enjoy them along the way.”

It’s important to understand that what UX achieves is the ability to take the Business Needs and the User Needs and create a set of simple principals and guidelines that designers can use to ensure they don’t need to go back and re-do work multiple times. It’s cost effective business analysis built on qualitative research, pure and simple. Love us or hate us we’re still part of the design process.

Usability Testing

  • Think aloud
  • Task based testing
  • Paper prototype
  • Remote testing

From a usability point of view you should be assessing and measuring:

  1. Success Rates
  2. Time On Task – How productive is your website?
  3. Are your visitors successfully completing what they came to do?
  4. Was their experience efficient?
  5. Comments & Suggestions – What do users say about your website?
  6. What do they suggest for you to improve the overall experience?
  7. Net Promoter Score – After using your site, would users recommend you to friends or colleagues?
  8. Click Heat-maps – Where do users actually click while trying to search for something?
  9. Do they recognise links easily and intuitively?
  10. Are users finding the content they are looking for based on the current categorisation you are offering on your site?

…and the list goes on really… but that’s not a list of I.A tasks is it? That’s a list of usability objectives… so already you can see how UX differs from just straight up I.A. The scope of UX is directed at affecting “all aspects of the user’s interaction with the product: how it is perceived, learned, and used.“

Prototyping

  • Paper
  • HTML
  • Axure
  • Swipr
  • Intuitect
  • iRise
  • etc…

There are 5 metrics in usability and prototyping shows us if they work for a project:

  1. Learnability
  2. Efficiency
  3. Memorability
  4. Errors (reducing them!)
  5. Satisfaction

Lots-of-documentation

  • Wireframes
  • Task flows
  • Functional Specifications
  • Personas
  • Scenarios
  • Storyboards
  • etc…

Business needs + user needs = Design Principals

Business success is always defined by the quality of the overall customer experience. Websites that are hard to use frustrate customers, forfeit revenue and erode brands. Good design is the most important way to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

In some cases the apparent cost of involving User Experience early and throughout a product-development process becomes a series of hidden costs, resulting from project delays, incomplete requirements, and less than optimal products that result in higher error rates and reduced efficiency for users.

Think of UX not as the final painted version of a masterpiece, but more the underlying principals that create the masterpiece. Good design is not decorative, good design is problem solving.

What we see is visual design, but what we don’t see behind any good design is:

  • Skeleton (Interface design, navigation design, information design)
  • Structure (information design, information architecture)
  • Scope (functional specs, content requirements)
  • Strategy (user needs, site objectives)

All sounds quite Utopian doesn’t it? That’s because as a principal weaved into our industry it’s pretty embryonic. We’ve only been out of the closet for a couple of years (the modern, ubiquitous internet is still less than 10 years old, so it’s not as bad as all that) and its going to take agencies and clients a while to get out of the mindset of UX being just IA. Try thinking of it a different way:

  • Information architecture defines the structure of information.
  • Interaction design enables people to manipulate and contribute to that information.
  • Visual design communicates these possibilities to people and creates affinity to them (desirability).

To summarise in a way that big-dogs might understand

Struggling to get the accounts teams & directors of your agency to buy into a UX approach to digital business… try this argument, they’ll probably sit up and take a bit more notice:

If information architecture has a value to your agency by charging you out at a daily rate with a mark-up… and user-experience as a discipline (as defined in this article) is actually made-up of 7 different areas, I.A being just one of them, then as an agency you can make 7 times more money from UX than you can from I.A. Simples.

Let’s finish with something pretty:

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