10 Instant Hacks that’ll make you a better UX-er

Actionable-now tips learned from the UX Bootcamp at General Assembly in London, led by the awesome twosome Amit Patel and Daniel Kemery.

Always challenge the brief. The client is an expert at their problems, but they are not the problem solvers – you are.

Remember UX is about designing within restraints. Prioritisation and trade-offs are necessary.

Publish your case studies on Medium to expand your reach and show relevant audiences what you’re doing. It’s also great way to learn from the pros and stay on top of the industry on the go, whether you have 20 minutes a week or just 5 minutes a day.

UX is more than a mantra. It is happening everywhere, right now, so there’s no excuses not to immerse yourself – tackle books, watch videos, follow heroes on social media, subscribe to newsletters (I recommend Mark Jenkins’ UX Essentials), join Slack groups, attend Meetups, try an online course, blog about it, visit places (the new Design Museum is a must), test new apps and have a go at prototyping.

Be proactive – don’t sit around waiting for ideas. Existing problems are everywhere. Describe a day in the life and find out what can be improved with user centred design.

The subtle but importance difference between ‘user journeys’ and ‘user flows’: User journeys/journey mapping involves detailing the ‘as is’ process and are done in the early stages of research before ideation. They are handy for having an overview of the existing journey and spotting where UX improvements can be made.

User flows are done after research – they’re the exact steps in a path from A to B (e.g. making a one-off online purchase on an app) the user must complete when using a product, service or experience you’re designing. There are no interior monologue described. It is useful to put the user story (their goal) next to this while you create the flow.

Proto-personas are your allies when you’re short on time, money and want to get stakeholders aligned on starting user research. Proto-personas (‘proto’ means primitive) are a slight variation on traditional, research-heavy personas. They are instead based on design hypotheses and assumptions generated from brainstorming workshops involving stakeholders. Another way of doing quick proto-personas is developing them based on a single interview of your target user – a more accurate persona would require 3-5 interviews. I highly recommend Jeff Gothelf’s UX Mag article on why you should use proto-personas.

Experience maps are awesome. The amped-up sister of user journeys, these clearly illustrate the thinking, feeling and actions of the user, before during and after an experience. They can take time to create but are compelling visual tools for persuading stakeholder buy-in and allowing everyone to understand the problem. Other benefits include the ability to pinpoint frustration in the journey and giving a benchmarking means of before and after comparison when a prototype is made. Here’s an example and a blank template from Pinterest.

Update your UX tools and design software regularly. Watch out for game-changing plugins and features that’ll save you time, enable easy changes and reduce rework hassle. Work smart and be kind to the future you – Sketch templates, symbols and integration plug-ins, Auto-layout for responsive design are your friends.

Brave UX: Fight for UX

Need I say more? Get these for the office.


Review – The past, present & future of HCI

Innovative Hong Kong taxi drivers in ‘The Everyday Hacker’ presentation by UX designer Heidi Smith.

As my first ever UX conference, I was delighted to be invited to the open day at London’s City University’s HCID (Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design). I was invited by Kostya Samoylov – my UX research mentor and former Googler turned startup cofounder.

HCID conducts research, consultancy, degree courses in HCI and features a dedicated Interaction Lab. Speaking of labs, Kostya’s UX-Study startup (who were one of the speakers at the event) is hacking the way user testing labs currently operate. See if your usability labs could be more effective and less expensive (save yourself from forking out thousands for a glorified meeting room).

Firstly, a definition on HCI according to Wikipedia:

Human–computer interaction (commonly referred to as  HCI) researches the design and use of computer technology, focused on the interfaces between people ( users) and computers. Researchers in the field of HCI both  observe the ways in which humans interact with computers and design technologies that let humans interact with computers in novel ways.

The theme for this year’s mini conference was ‘The Past, Present and Future of HCI’,on “where HCI came from, the current state of affairs, and what challenges lay ahead”.

Here are my personal highlights.

We cannot leave UX to the Experts.

Tom Stewart, System Concepts

Awestruck audiences lapped up the juicy keynote ‘Does it matter if we call it HCI or UX?’ by industry legend Tom Stewart, founder of consultancy System Concepts, who’s been involved in the field of ergonomics since the 1970s. New technology is moving at a pace faster than we can keep up with to understand its users. As technology develops, so must usability. We can’t afford to wait for experts to save the day, we have to do it ourselves.

Niche – nice – normal.

Jonathan Hassell, Open Inclusion

“If you want to make a case to vouch for UX accessibility in your organisation, start with CSR and Innovation teams” says Jonathan Hassell, director at accessibility research consultancy Open Inclusion. Very few companies are uninterested in increased ROI. By identifying, understanding and removing barriers you can increase your potential customers by 30%.

Hassell doesn’t like the term ‘inclusive design’, describing it as a “bit patronising and outdated”. He believes that as a society as well as businesses, we need to change our thinking and attitudes towards accessibility as beyond being just for disabled. “We’re all outliers…design for me, difference is normal.”

I couldn’t agree more – accessibility is simply good for all of us. There should not merely be ‘a ramp at an entrance’ mentality – it’s more comprehensive than that. With over 15 years of experience in digital inclusion for the likes of BBC under his belt and as a British Web Accessibility standards author, his book ‘Including your missing 20% by embedding web and mobile accessibility’, is a guide on how to strategically embed inclusion into a broad range of businesses.

Don’t just provide research, provide answers.

Leslie Fountain, Foolproof

Foolproof is a leading agency in the UX space and Managing Director Leslie Fountain is a noted speaker at innovation events. In her talk ‘The State of play in HCI’, she describes the changing demands in the industry and how that affects what agencies look for in talent. “At Foolproof, as a business we encourage and look for people who can see themselves as consultants, rather than just researchers or designers. Consultants have to use skills of persuasion to get clients to understand and buy into the value of HCI.”

Fountain says key areas to invest in for the present and future of HCI are consultants, strategists and creative technologists.

As for the next big growth industries for HCI, UX is going to play a huge role inArtificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Internet Of Things andFintech developments.

Favourite quote:

“Understanding why is one half of the job, communicating why is another.”

Kelsey Smith, Thompson Reuters

Enough said.