UX Academy MUXL

Week 1 – HCD or UCD

Week one opened with the 9 member sheepishly greeting each other and finding out about one another’s backgrounds, from Developers turned Designers, Marketing executives, and Graphic Designers all wanting to learn more about UX. The class size was a good number which allowed everyone to participate without feeling intimidated.

The first week run by Charlotte Gauthier the Lead UX Designer from The Guardian was focused around Human/User centred design. Starting by showing the various teams we would be working with throughout the course. Each team being split to give a wide range of backgrounds and experiences from the different participants. The first exercise was to decide a user-group that would benefit from a new email interface. A good range of ideas came forward, from a email interface focused on accessibility, to one focused on security which showed a good range of ideas within the groups.

Charlotte then focused the talk on what User research methods and processes were needed to validate the ideas. From Primary research, such as interviews, questionnaires and field studies, to Secondary research methods like benchmarking competitors and looking at previous studies. Then introducing us to tools like empathy maps, Persona cards and moving into NABC (Needs, Approach, Benefits, and Competition) that help make sense of the data gained.

Towards the end of the class we were separated back into our teams and given the brief for our course project, with the first week focusing on profiling our audience. With the ideas for the projects being a Healthcare app, a gardening tool, and ours a Trading skills app for the local community.

Week 2 – Ideation

Meeting with our teams again and exchanging notes on the week’s work, having found some  useful information from interviews carried out during the week. With the Health care app being reminded of a old A-Z book that mums and dads would use to get quick medical knowledge. To understanding that an app that dealt with neighbours working together, would have to be careful to create respect within the app’s community, as to not create awkward relationships in the real world.

We were then greeted with our tutor for the next two weeks Hara Mihailidou who is currently Head of UX at Just Giving with a whole wealth of knowledge from experience at Microsoft and O2. Today we started to look at Ideation using a few techniques to develop the concept from week 1, ready to make a proposal that would be ready to pitch.

We were taught a number of great tools to use, that helped take the initial ideas and expand on them. The ones that sprung out to me included Journey maps, where you take a persona and map out the user’s day, helping to find where the situation would be useful for your users. With two others techniques that help take the idea and look at them in a completely different way, with ‘Creative Stimulus’ using ‘Revolution’ technique. Here you take the rules created from your original idea and reverse them to see if this leads to new ideas. Also another I particularly enjoyed was ‘Random links’ which allows you to stop getting bogged down within the project you may be working on. By bringing in a couple of random objects you would then discuss what they allow the user to do (anything is plausible), then taking these notes and relating each one back to the original idea.

Week 3 – User Experience, Sketching, and story boards

With the class being run again by Hara we all presented our final idea, giving a short explanation to how we got there. Within our team we had found that our initial idea was too broad to focus on within the time frame. Whilst also finding it would be very difficult to help mums and families because of the trust you need with the person may help with giving the kids a lift to school or babysitting. So we eventually settled on focusing on first time buyers and helping them with DIY tasks. It was good to see the other teams present and how their ideas had been developed into one pitch.

One learning from each of the groups pitch which seems obvious, was that we each forgot to give a quick story of the user and the specific problems they face, showing where our idea would help. With this in mind we moved into looking at our design goals, seeing the pyramid diagram from Stephen P Anderson who looked into the psychology behind design, moving your product from usable and reliable, to something pleasurable  and meaningful, that will keep your users coming back time after time.

Hara then showing a great video from the master himself Don Norman. Looking at all the instances of designing fun into your products and what emotional cues the product should have to succeed, from Visceral, Behavioral, and Reflective.

We then came to one of the most enjoyable parts (for me) which was sketching, and creating storyboards, learning some quick techniques on how to quickly draw people to help get across the story we want to portray.

Using the personas that we first created in week one the teams drew out the storyboard that would show how our idea would intertwine into the user’s day and help them with their tasks.

Week 4 – Journey mapping, Information architecture and Wireframing sketching

Jiri the Principal Interaction Designer currently at Intruit was our tutor for week 4, bringing with him his experience from working for the Telegraph, National Rail Enquiries, among others.

Now with a true validated idea, from using the knowledge we have learnt from our user interviews we moved on to learning how we could start to structure the information we had gained, by looking into the Taxonomy and Information Architecture or our products.

The first activity of the night was to map out our user’s Journey using the storyboards and personas we had created from previous weeks. Quickly noting down all the activities our users would go through from initial problem to using our application. A great activity that really allowed us to dig into the detail of every process of our product. Then mapping out subtasks under the initial notes, reiterating the original line of activities as we went along.  This flowed nicely into creating our User Flows, discussing as teams how the users would move around the activities and subtasks, learning that further Journeys could be made when wanting to dig into the detail of further subtasks.

Armed with the User Journeys and Flows, along with the work from previous nights, we moved into sketching out our wireframes. First working as a real rough Low fidelity hand sketch to get the ideas on page, allowing us to easily discuss what should be included and changed.

Before leaving, Jiri gave us the homework to the create a high fidelity wireframe prototype  using proto.io along with a couple of useful links from BBC Gel, iOS HIG that look at existing patterns and design system that users already have a mental model of.

 

Week 5 – Prototyping and Rapid Experiments

I turned up early to see our tutor for the night Jiri grabbing a bite to eat before our class. It was good to get a quick chat with him before class, as we got to talk about how the academy was going and what my views on the class, along with getting a quick bit of advice over what I should emphasise within my CV and portfolio. With my background he mentioned I should focus on selling my experience from working with British standards to meet Ergonomic needs with the products I had worked on previously. Along with that he talked about his experiences when doing a masters, saying he thoroughly enjoyed it, and would still do it, despite the pressures of having a young family.

Moving onto the class we took a quick look at the wireframes we had produced using proto.io. Giving guidance on what areas we should adapt, opening it up to the whole group to ask questions. This then led us into the week’s topic of Prototyping.

First looking at the Double diamond diagram created by the Design council. Methodology suggesting that the design process consists of the 4 phases Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver. With Jiri saying that prototyping can fit within every phases as you look to evaluate your designs. Learning how Prototypes have many different guises and can be used to understand the problem space you are about to move. Showing examples of Rapid experiments where you jot down your interface on a piece of paper to test with a potential user. A very quick and easy way to test an assumption you might have.

Jiri started to go into detail of the various test he had carried out giving us lots of examples of Low fidelity test like sketches and dry tests where the prototype can be a creative piece that wouldn’t include any functionality to a ‘Wizard of OZ/ concierge’ test  where a model is produced that allows the user to think they are using a real product. Jiri gave an example of a text based prototype where his teams created a text messages service where they would re-write the received messages from users before forwarding them, allowing them to test an idea quickly and the user thinking that everything was running through a database.

Another test that Jiri recommended was the diary study, getting users to use a prototype for a period of time whilst keeping a diary of when they used the product. This allows you to understand how the user gets on with a product over a longer period of time. What Jiri found most interesting was once the diary test had finished, they allowed the users to continue using the product. Although Jiri no longer got the the diary, the analytics they got back were quite interesting.

We then moved to a quick practical where we drew out and used paper prototypes to test quick interactions with our projects, which was a great way to imagine the steps the user had to go through to achieve a certain objective. Leaving this week  with a couple of noteworthy comments  ‘A prototype is worth a 1000 words’ and you should make a prototype in the lowest fidelity possible to answer the question you have.

Week 6 – Inclusive & responsive design

Today we met our 4th Tutor Sophie Lepinoy who is currently teaching Lean User experience and has mentored start up businesses at Google Launchpad. She came to give us an overview of what we should focus on with Accessibility and Inclusivity when designing for our users.

Sophie showing some insightful videos of people who are visually impaired, and what tools they use. Showing us how to consider the page is structured so that the screen readers can run through the page in a flowing manner. The video led the talk into the meaning of Accessibility as trying to remove barriers that stop people from using the website, which could be anything from visual impairment to hearing, which could be a physical problem to an environment problem of where the user is viewing your site/app. Then showing the certain standards that our designs should fall under such as the Equality Act 2010 along with the guidelines and associations which are good to keep in mind WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative), W3C (World Wide Web Consortium).

The next topic which Accessibility falls under was Inclusivity that can range from Language, Age, Education, communities and many more of what your users might be. This led to looking at our designs from ‘Stress Cases’. Where a product may be used in the wrong way. An example was given of a user asking Siri “Siri, I don’t know what to do, I was just sexually assaulted”, with Siri replying “One can’t know everything, can one?”. Showing how not thinking of all the ways a user could interact with your product, no matter how bad can lead to making a traumatic devastating event, even worse for the user.

The first exercise of the night was looking at the wireframes we have already created, and seeing how they should be restructured to include what we had learnt from the day’s session. This led our team to not only look at how the page should be restricted but how users may become vulnerable whilst using our app. Making us look at what safeguards we might need to be put into our design in certain steps of the process, such as pop up warnings, as well as directing people to connect with users they may already know through Facebook.

After a small break we started to look at responsive design and grid systems, looking at the differences between Native, hybrid and Web, from how to to pick your break point to choosing a responsive grid that would suit your site, mentioning it should be looking at your content and how it is viewed at various viewpoint sizes before setting your breakpoints. Sophie finished by giving us some great resources to help decide a grid and setting a task to adapt our mobile apps to desktop.

 

Week 7 – Validating with usability testing

Sophie set out the agenda for the night. Looking into Usability testing methods and techniques. First making us aware of how prototypes can save millions in industry. Really highlighting the need to test your assumptions before pushing them into the real world. Whilst showing how building up knowledge in the area to gain empathy with the core users, as without this our designs are pretty much wishful thinking.

First we looked at the initial research we needed to gather to help validate our idea. Taking the brief that came from the client and beginning to understand:

the users situation,

their motivation

and their desired outcome.

To help learn what users are doing now to solve their problems.  Showing the quote below:

“This is exactly why we do user research: to find out what people are doing now to solve their problem, understanding what needs they have, and to understand how we can best help meet those needs. Then it’s time to work out what the project should be”

https://userresearch.blog.gov.uk/2015/05/27/doing-user-research-in-the-discovery-phase/

The talk moved into giving us some useful research methods and questions that we could use, whilst also showing a few examples from the book Just enough research by Erica Hall

“A healthy team is made up of people who have the attitude that it is better to learn something than be ‘right’”.

Erika Hall, Just enough research

Moving towards user interviews where Sophie showed short video from the book Sprint by Jake Knapp, that showed Michael Margolis conduct a user interview about a fitness tracker. Picking out some of the key areas to keep in mind when conducting an interview, such as:

Making the user at ease, and being conscious of your own body language and how this could affect the user whilst being fresh and enthusiastic,

Start the interview by spending 10 minutes talking to the user and finding out about them.

Make sure you listening and don’t interrupt and be appreciative showing your listening

Ask the users questions, or ask where their thoughts may have come from, eg a past app they may have used.

Make sure the user fully understands you are testing the product and not them

Give the user certain tasks to complete.

And finally finish with a quick debrief.

We then broke away for 20 minutes where we started to use the tools we had learnt that night to conduct our own interviews. First we decided on the user goal and what we might want to learn from the interview. Then turning these into tasks the users needed to complete and non-leading questions that meet the goals we set out.

Within the group one person interviewed a user whilst the rest of the group participated in note taking. It was good to learn this in a non pressured environment, and I immediately picked up some useful learnings, after committing the cardinal sin of jumping straight into the task, forgetting to learn about the user first. What was interesting was being able to see the problem and writing down the note just by seeing the movement of the mouse and the body language of the user even before they spoke themselves about the issue. Showing how important user interviews can be.

This leads us into the final week with some great feedback to add to further users tests carried outside of the academy to build upon our designs.

 

Week 8 – Stakeholder management and UX portfolios

Onto the final week, which was a fairly relaxed evening with Sophie filling in at short notice with the topic for the night being Stakeholder Management and Portfolios. Showing us how important it is to know who they are, what they want, emphasising the need to take these people with you whilst doing the project. Giving us a few key ways to keep people on board with workshops like Hackathons, Design sprints, and storytelling. Which all help to change attitudes in terms of how UX might be thought of in other parts of the business, with a major example coming from the book Sprint by Jake Knapp and Game storming by Dave Gray.

The talk then moved into how best to set up a portfolio, and how to use the work we had done throughout the course, and build a case study that would allow us to show the processes we have gone through when designing.

One of the best parts being right at the end where Sophie spent her time to have a look through the work we had produced over the last few weeks, as well guiding us on our online portfolios, giving us an insight into what employers are looking for, as well as a few pointers of what we should change. I found this a great part of the night getting great feedback in a non pressured environment and being able to chat openly with Sophie on ideas of how to adapt my site to best show off my work.

As the night came to a close a few of the students finished off with a couple of drinks with both Naveed and Sophie joining us, where we could talk about the academy and share ideas and what groups and events to join to continue learning.

 

Final thoughts

As someone who has been a front end developer, and product designer I really enjoyed the 8 weeks, which seemed to go in a flash. My highlights definitely being able to sit down with the tutors on a one to one basis from getting thoughts on masters degrees, to usability tests. I think it’s great if you’re new in UX or a beginner, in giving you the right structure to follow or just cementing what you may already have learnt whilst at work. Although what I would say is you get out of the course as much as you are willing to put using the nights sessions as a way to give a direction to the work you do outside of the academy.

A definite highlight is the tutors who have amazing backgrounds in UX who give a great insight to what they have learnt over their careers as well as Naveed who makes you feel at ease and is more than willing to answer any question you have, and always looking at ways to see how he can improve the academy in the future.

 

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Voice – MUXL

Lee Mallon the Technical lead from Rarely Impossible came to share his experience in working with Alexa voice, giving some useful insight into how using this technology can change the way we communicate.

One point raised was quite interesting, talking about how the younger generation adapts to technology first, but then turning this conception on its head looking at how the interaction could actually suit the older generation more due to under 25s having grown up researching and asking questions using the internet with a keypad, whereas the older generation 65+ have grown up talking to gain insight and knowledge, which i though was quite a nice turning the usual concept on its head. He pointed out how Alexa gives a transcript of everything that was asked during the past month or so, and mentioned how his nan suffers a bit from Dementia and this was shown up within the transcript, where she had asked the same question a number of times within a short period of time, which raises some useful thoughts about how this could be turned into something positive, that might be able to detect certain patterns in how the user uses the device detecting early onset of dementia or other illnesses.

It is interesting that Alexa constantly monitors what is being said waiting for awake words to be mentioned, but Lee mentioned how you soon forget and carry on with normal life. What was alarming is that every term that goes through Alexa is being monitored by a team of people who put a transcript together, although not noting location or name of the user.

This led to how Alexa can be used for offices such as being able to put together and presenting sales figures, and then presenting it to the team – which would save a few people within my team a few hours a week. Although companies must be scared that their data is being run through a direct competitor. They found some interesting things about the placement of Amazon Echo when testing it within a client’s office, such as Alexa found it hard to pick up voices in a noisy location which is fairly obvious, but most interesting was it struggled at the end of the day, finding the office workers voices and language hard to understand as the users become lazy and tired, wanting to get home. Lee found with his team that there is a real difference in the tone and quality of the users voice depending on how they feel.

Lee talked about the findings he found when taking it home, finding that he would first talk normally when asking Alexa a question, but soon started talking as if he was typing into a Google search box. Eg saying, “Hamilton Malaysia” instead of “Where did Hamilton finish at the Malaysian GP this weekend”. With his kids everything started fine until after a couple of week one of his kids went up to him and said “Dad get me a drink”. Lee found himself replying “I’m not Alexa!”. They then had to download a skill so that Alexa would only carry out requests once it had heard the word please.

Moving onto new technology of where voice could be used such as lifts and how this would affect the interface, eg allowing the user to know that they would have to speak, when there is no interface. Here the lift would have to talk to the user asking which floor the user would want to go to, which would be one of the first times that a computer would initiate contact with the user.

Tents



When working within the camping range, we received a lot of complaints that the user would wake up in the middle of the night with the tent leaking. With total refunds for a tent being around 7%. After receiving a number of the returned samples and assembling them in the garden and leaving them up over the weekend, none leaked.

The actual problem came to light when we received one returned sample, that showed the knots that this particular customer was using to tie their guy lines.

This showed that there was a lack of knowledge in our customers when it came to camping. Showing that we generally dealt with new/novice campers. The products were fine but although the Instruction manuals were benchmarked with competitors, we were missing vital information to let novice campers understand how to set up tents to avoid morning condensation.

So a relatively simple change to add more information within the IM that helped reduce returns and give our customers a better experience. That showed how important it is to understand the customer that buys into your specific product, and not just the range as a whole.

Bubble Machine

How manufacturing faults can lead a user to think their product has failed. Whilst at TESCO I was given a product that from first impressions was great and met everything the user would want, from being able to produce thousands of bubbles over a short period of time. But the reviews were poor, and the returns figures were increasing more and more. The complaints coming back was the after a period of time the wand would fail, stopping the machine from working. This product had been on sale for a number of years, with similar reviews and quite a high returns percentage.

Bubble machineAfter getting a few returned samples in to the office, along with buying some brand new, we put a few batteries in and found that out of the 10 I had on my desk, 9 worked fine, which immediately made us think that users were returning these after a summers party, as they have served their purpose. Exploring more and leaving the machines to run, sure enough the wand in each of the bubble machine started to fail, leaving only the fan in the back rotating until the batteries ran out. My decision was then to replace the batteries to see what would happen. Sure enough, the Bubble machine began to work fine.

This immediately showed that the actual product was made out of two circuit boards and simply the batteries had run out in the wand. Quite a simple oversight when manufacturing the machine had led to around a 10% returns rate for a product where simply one half of the batteries in the product had run out. It was surprising how simply this could be fixed by joining the circuit boards into one, then allowing the customer to see the cue of when the batteries were running down as the wands and fan begin to slow and eventually stop together.