Author: gsdesign1

One of the Problems with “UX” (not a Random Thought)

I don’t think anyone can go into a company hired on as a “UX Designer” and know their product in roughly a week, and then deliver UX guidelines, a style-guide, and suggestions for a product 4 months from launch at the end of that week. 

Maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t think so. 

And this is something that adds on to thoughts I’ve had in the past about the whole UX thing, and the mass-imperceptions people tend to have about this thing called UX. 

Is it user research? Yes

Is it Information Architecture? Yes

Is it UI design? Yes

Is it creating personas? Yes

Is it interaction design? Yes

Is it wire framing? Yes

Is it Visual Design? Yes

Is it about creating the best, most engaging, easy to use experience for the end user? YES!

It’s about ALL of the above things, and maybe some things I missed. 

Some companies have one person (or a couple) doing all of the above. Which is fine if they understand it takes a lot of work for that one or two people to do it all (and we’re not even getting into the Magic Unicorn syndrome of someone who can develop as well..)

Some companies have wisely chosen to break those different disciplines into different roles so the load is shared by many. Some have not. Usually the companies that have not really don’t get what UX is. I say usually because there are a few here and there that start out with putting UX first, not as an afterthought.  

And when companies put UX as an afterthought, which I have encountered numerous times, they don’t get it. In fact, I’ve had VP’s tell me there’s an internal argument among top execs and pretty much everyone else as to what UX is. 

And that’s pretty sad really. 

Typically (I say this from experience), they’ll do the best they can with some graphics people (or not..), a PM (or product owner and scrum master), a business analyst, and a group of developers who do their best to make a set of requirements functional, which to the credit of the developers, they tend to do a good job of making software functional. 

And the BA does a good job of getting requirements (more on that in a moment). In fact, everyone does their job admirably — almost all the time. And the app or software or web site is then made. 

But then they realize it’s not all that great – graphics don’t look too sharp, buttons aren’t where they could be, processes don’t seem to make the thing more user-friendly, action items are missing or in the wrong place, and so on. “We need to hire a UX designer to help us!” they cry. (okay, that’s a bit dramatic but you get the point)

And so they look high and low, call recruiters, and a parade of UX folk are shown similar to the America Kennel Club “Best in Show” competition. And then a UX champion is chosen. This is where things can either go really well for all, or turn out to be not such a great idea. And that’s all based on how much the company understands (TRULY understands) the role of UX. 

1: A UX Designer is not a babysitter. 
Our job is to find the best solution to a problem in order to create the best experience for the end user. We need to have time to do research, pour over any existing analytics and data, understand what the product is supposed to do,  get to know the end user, see where the product short-comings are (pain points), devise a plan on how to improve it, do some information architecture (if needed), mindmap it, create new solutions as wireframes (and eventually flows), create some graphic mockups, and then champion that direction and fight for what’s the right way to get to a great end product.  

2: A UX Designer is about great usability.
Asking them to do anything short of that is like asking an eagle not to soar (yes, dramatic again, but that comes pretty close).

3: A UX Designer has your best interests.
Some companies don’t get this. They want us to come in, tell them everything looks pretty okay aside from moving some buttons and adding a few new requested features (like a new button), and making sure the developers are following the designs that were already created and signed-off on (and marketed to users). Yes, there’s some room for some improvements, which might happen by launch, or after launch (phase 2), but there’s no time for real improvements. If we see that there are glaring problems with your product/app/website, it’s our job/duty/requirement to let you know. It goes against our grain to let bad things go out into the world that everyone is going to see. And for me at least, I don’t want to be tied to bad things. 

4: Not all UX Designers can do everything.
Okay, I believe most UX Designers should be able to do most tasks required for creating a great experience. But I’m not a top notch researcher. I’m okay at it, and good at listening, and looking at information, and figuring out what to do with it. But I’m not a scientist or true researcher. But I do love to know what you have, find out why it’s not working (by me using it, and then asking others what they think), and coming up with a game plan to not just fix it but make it better. I love doing visual design, but not all UX folks do, or can for that matter. That’s okay. I love sitting with developers and making sure the designs are followed (and this is not really babysitting as I don’t micromanage or hover). I check in on them, tell them I’m there for answers, and help them figure things out, or make small changes – which I then update in my designs so QA has GOOD documentation. so we have a successful launch. 

5: A Good UX Designer is an Architect
I truly believe that a good UX Designer should be an architect. That’s my belief. I don’t think every UX person out there feels the same way, and loves focusing on the one aspect that really floats their boat. That’s okay, and works well in big organizations. My inspiration comes from architects of the Bauhaus movement as well as mid-century geniuses like Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, and others who not only designed a structure, but designed an experience. They focused on creating the best experience for their client, which included picking out colors, designing the furniture, being there with the builder (developers in our case), from Day 1 to the last day. Even if I’m on a job and required to do one thing, I want to be involved in the whole process to ensure the best possible experience is being created. 

To wrap this up, all I need to say is for all the small and big companies out there, study. Learn what UX is. Go to UX get-togethers, get to know us. Read online, get some books, know it well enough so when you hire us, you know what to ask for and know how the process goes (and how long it can take). That way you’re not surprised, or disappointed when we don’t have tangible results the 5th day on the job. It’s kind of like baking a cake from scratch. You know it takes time to put all the ingredients together and let them bake for the right amount of time. You can’t rush a good cake. 

 

 

 

 

 

A Quick Thought on Enabling — The Dream Job Environment (for me at least)

I was recently given the book “Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park” by a Director and Senior Show Producer at Walt Disney Imagineering, and someone I consider a friend, Jon Georges (who I also consider a Disney Imagineering Legend). 

In the forward of the book is this quote from Harrison (Buzz) Price, which rings true for any creative person, “”Yes, if…” is the language of the enabler. You never wanted to tell Walt “No, because…””.  

It can be very frustrating to be a creative person, or in my case an experience designer, and told time and again by people who are there to make your designs that they can’t be done, or “No, because…”

In my last 3 jobs, I encountered the “No, because…” syndrome at two companies, and the “Yes, if…” at one – my last one actually. The first time was at a software defense contractor, and when I had come up with a novel solution and design for something that would be normally be considered boring and a chore for the people using it, I had one developer tell me “I don’t think we’re smart enough to do what you want.” Shortly after that, the head developer came to me to show me how he thought the app should be designed so it would be easy for them to do.

This is a case of putting the needs of the developer ahead of the needs of the users. Great for them, bad for a good user experience.  

When I was done with that contract (and they did eventually stick to my designs which won them a huge contract…), I went on to  a small app development company that makes an app for iOS and Android.  

In this case, the “No, because…” wasn’t the fault of the Android developer. It was because using the Android SDK, a lot of stuff that would have made the app a better experience couldn’t be done. Still, as a designer/creative person, you tend to get your balloon popped a lot because of limitations – or so I believed there were limitations because that’s what the developer knew and what he conveyed to me. 

At my last job, which ended due to budget, I never got a “No, because…”. Not once. Ever. In fact when I came up with limited ideas, since that’s what I was used to doing by then, I was told to think bigger, and think for myself versus going with what was common design practices. 

I’d then ask the developers “Can we do this?”, expecting a “No, because…” but instead always getting a “Yes, if…” which was more in the form of “Sure, I guess so. We can do anything you want.”   

They weren’t tied to any SDK’s, and would come up with new ways to code in order to make things happen, and realize the designs, solutions and stuff I’d just throw out there to see if it would stick.  Coincidentally, this company was formed by a couple of Disney’s top Imagineers. 

That to me was a dream job environment — to be able to freely create great ideas and solutions, and have people say “Yes, if…”. A workplace of enablers, not disablers (that’s the best I could come up with as an anti-enabler). 

I encourage not only creatives to seek out companies like that, but I encourage companies and their management team to be more open to great ideas, and instead of saying “No, because…” as their first answer, maybe look at how something could really be accomplished beyond what you’re used to, and taking a chance of enabling greatness within your walls. 

Clean and Lean Design – the new Disney.com

I like minimalistic design, classic lines, nice edges. I think the new iOS7 is getting there as it got rid of ornamentation (glass effects, big drop shadows, shiny stuff), in favor of clean lines, a more layered look with flat icons, and outlined icons as well – stuff that tells the user what it is without being showy. 

Earlier this year, Disney changed their website, and I really like it. In the past, it was big, hard to navigate, worked horribly on mobile devices, took a long time to load, and was very showy. 

This was the old site – screengrab from thefoxisblack blog:

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I’d say there was a certain charm, but the site was outdated, felt like it was from earlier in the century and hadn’t been redesigned in ages, and again was difficult to navigate. 

The new site changed that. It put content and usability ahead of flashy design. It lets the content – videos, characters, parks, etc. be the main focal point.

Some examples of the home page:

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Good example of responsive design. On my iPhone with the section below, the icons are nice and big, and I can scroll horizontally through them. 

 

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In today’s web/information/social media world, responsive design is very important. I don’t think it’s frugal — both time and money-wise, to design different versions of a site for different viewing experiences. 

I understand that doing responsive design isn’t easy, and there are sometimes where a mobile version of a site must be done in order to provide the perfect experience for the user. Examples would be a banking or credit card site, or basically anything that requires lots of input from the user. 

Content-rich sites that are getting updated all the time would be a costly endeavor for any company if they had to update that content on various platforms – even if the content is dynamically driven so it’s publish once, the cost of time and effort to architect and design for all the various platforms and screen sizes could be insurmountable for most – even big corporations need to be smart in their spending (I’ve seen a lot of waste in a lot of the big corps I’ve worked at). 

So what does this mean for the end-user?

A buddy of mine and a lot of people didn’t like what was done with the Disney site, and I was told site visitors dropped off. But I think once people get used to the world getting away from ornamentation, drop shadows, bevels, lens flares, glass effects, and so on, then they’ll begin to embrace simplicity, speed, ease of use. 

Dieter Rams said this: “Good design is as little design as possible — Less is more – because it concentrates on the essential aspects and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.”

It’s time we got back to clean and lean design. 

 

“Almost There Design”..

If the term “Almost There design” hasn’t been coined yet, I’d like to be the guy who coined it.

I’ve been using it now for the past year — maybe longer. I don’t remember, but I like using it. “What is it?” you may ask. Well, it’s pretty simple and a term I use whenever I see an attempt at a product or app or experience or anything that is such a good idea, but not really executed to it’s full potential, or what it should have been, or could be, as in it’s “Almost There” but misses the mark of what it was aiming for.

I see a LOT of things that are “Almost There” – Google Now, Android, the current state of iOS, Google Glass – actually I have a very long list of things that could take a while, and maybe I’ll do a blog post about it. The sad thing is I see a lot of things that are almost there, from a lot of big companies who are known for creating new wonderful experiences. But for some reason a lot of their latest stuff is SO close yet not close enough to changing the way we do things or completely shift paradigms.

A good analogy that came to me this morning happened when I got an email from a buddy asking me about my thoughts on skeumorphism (making artificial things like interfaces look like real world things).

Disclaimer: I like a little bit of skeumorphism. It’s like salt on food. Just a little brings out the flavor but too much ruins it.

Unless you’re a horse and really like lots of salt.

Also, I don’t consider myself an interface master or expert by any means. I know what I like, what feels right, what just makes my gut go “yeah, that’s it!” or “bleh – this is really not good and it’s kinda creeping me out”.

I am and will always be a student. I’m always learning, either from others, or the world around me, or just from silly discoveries that happen most of the time by mistake – accidental inventions more or less (I know about these as I had 6 in the last 4 months that are waiting to be patented – and that surprised me).

So here’s what my friend asked:

I enjoy reading you comments on LinkedIn. I understand Apple may abandon skeuomorphisms from the user interface of IOS 7. Being an interface master, I am interested in your thoughts about skeuomorphic design elements. 
Mike

And here was my answer:

As far as the whole new iOS, I will say I’m excited to see what Jonny Ive comes up with, however there’s certain things I still like in skeumorphism, like metal buttons, or buttons that glow when on like there’s a little tiny light in them. And I do like apps that feel like the real thing – there’s a number of sound apps that mimic real synthesizers, or amps, or 8mm movie cameras. I like those because they are nostalgic feeling and bring back fond memories when I use them, as well as a bit of whimsy. 

I don’t think we can totally get away from skeumorphism — felt table tops are bad, but there is a way to use it and not be over the top or basically in the wrong place. Going completely opposite can be dangerous – tiles was one of the worst takes on going flat and people’s response to that design direction has not been good. 

What’s funny is when you think about it, is Ive’s inspiration of Braun and if they go somewhat in that direction of mimimal and more flat is that there is still skeumorphism since it’s mimicking that look..

 I know they can pull something off that’s a game-changer. They always do. What Apple is really good at is watching what other people do and how close they get – but never really get it right. That’s what I call an “almost there” (hey, there’s a reference to the Death Star trench run…). It makes an impact but it doesn’t blow up people’s perception of how something can be or should be done.

 Wow, and I just made that up as I was typing this – not the “almost there” part — I’ve been saying that for about a year now, but the analogy just popped into my head as I heard the red squadron leader in his X-wing saying “Almost there…”. 

If you’re a fan of Star Wars, Red leader made a run, was looking into his targeting computer and relying on something other than his gut. As he kept saying “Almost there”, he came SO close to blowing up the Death Star. But he didn’t. He made an impact that shook things up a bit, but he didn’t change anything. I kind of liken him to the people who rely on numbers, research, people who are trained to do things a certain way because that’s the way everyone else does it.

Red Five – Luke Skywalker, the one who didn’t go to the academy, was the outsider, hadn’t been part of the Rebel forces before – trusted his gut instinct (“Use the Force Luke”), and hit his target, blew up the Death Star, and changed things and people’s perceptions.

Apple is Red Five and literally blew up people’s perception of what a mobile phone should be with the iPhone. It was a game changer. I do believe a company can’t come out with something every single year that’s a game-changer. I don’t think it’s even so much a good idea, because people come to expect it, and lose focus on how a product changed their lives, and just want what’s next, and then what’s after that, and so on. Kind of like the kid at Christmas who blasts through their presents without being happy with the one really cool thing they’re parents spent a lot of time on finding.

I think iOS 7 is going to be a game changer. It’s not going to be an “Almost There”. It’s going to be “We’re there”. And I think Apple has something else up there sleeve (literally) that’s going to blow people’s perception of what whatever it’s going to be should be.

A wise and brilliant man recently said “Innovate or Die (dying is easier).”  That’s true. But give us some time to innovate. I mean really, truly, innovate.

You won’t be disappointed.

Making People Smile..

I was sitting down this morning having a nice cup of coffee, some eggs with spinach, and a piece of toast. 

It’s interesting when we are not rushing from here to there, going going going, that we have time to think – I mean really think. Deeply even. 

So I was thinking about how I got into UX, why I like it, what drives me to want to create great user experiences whether it’s software, an app, a website, a product, or just a whole new way of doing something we do every single day. 

The first thing I thought of was I like to fix things, and how I see lots of things that can be made into a better experience not only for myself, but my family, friends, and people in general. And it’s not a case of just making something a little easier to use, but really shaking things up — creating a whole new way to do something.

We’re so used to doing things that were invented so long ago, there’s never really any real change. People just get used to the status quo and thus progress gets stuck. 

I want to change that – and at my last job I did, but you’ll have to wait a while to see those things come to light. 

And then I thought about why do I really like doing UX? More so, what really drives me to want to do great work? And it all comes down to one thing — I love making people happy. I love to make people smile and forget about their worries, problems, drama. 

It goes back to when I was 5, and I had my Muppets  — Cookie Monster, Ernie, Bert, Grover- and my older brother and I would do shows from behind the couch for our parents, friends, and other family. We’d start out with some comedy (I did a mean Cookie Monster impression), and then we’d have them lip-sync to the Beatles.  I loved making people laugh.

It wasn’t about me or the attention – it was about serving others and making them happy.

When I was 7 I started doing magic shows for the family and friends, and eventually for the kids in the neighborhood. I’d always mess up, but would make light of it and it made people laugh, smile, and forget about life. 

When I was 8, I started tinkering with things, and figured out how to make my puppets animated, and then saw a special on “The Wonderful World of Disney” that featured Imagineers – THAT’s what I wanted to do when I grew up.  I kept doing magic shows, puppet shows, and loved to tell stories that made people laugh and smile. 

My latest personal project was (well still is because I’ll never be done with it) is a full-scale R2D2 astromech droid. Yes, I’m a bit of a Star Wars geek (or nerd…I don’t know anymore). My son and I built him to take to places like Children’s Hospital. We had him even at church one day for a series called “At the Movies”.

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Between services we had him in the lobby for pictures. People lined up (lots of people) to have a chance to get their picture with him. I sat quietly off to the side, watching people and their excitement. A few adults came up to me and commented how they had been wanting to have their photo with him and meet R2 since they were kids. 

You could see sheer joy in their eyes. Amazing how a rolling piece of wood, plastic, metal, motors, lights, sounds, and lots of hot glue can make people that happy. 

So here I am now, doing UX because it’s a way to make people happy. Life is pretty hard as it is — we don’t need websites, or apps, or products that make things more so. Whether it’s an enterprise app that’s supposed to be used by someone every day at their job, or a game, or social media, or whatever,  I want to make things a joy to use.

Make people smile. 

And that’s what I love to do. 

 

An Open Letter to Potential Employers

Don’t hire me if you don’t want me to be truthful about everything. No, seriously. I’m posting to my blog because I actually have time to – if you look back at my blog posts the last one was around the time I went to work for Trapster (I think), and then a company in Glendale. I have time because yet again being truthful was bad for me – though truthful I will always be.

Lying is bad, yet people do that, cheat, make up things, tell white lies, and so on seem to get rewarded for it all the time. Every time I’m honest about the way things are and how they can be fixed, I’m out of a job. Let me explain.

I’m a UX Designer – well, more of an experience designer overall. My job is to design great experiences and point out when one is not. When an employer asks me to do a usability study on a product or site or app they have, I’ll be honest in my assessment, point out the good stuff that works, and of course point out all the bad things and how to fix them.

I expect the employer not have their feelings hurt by my assessment. And turns out most the time they are- they get offended, defensive, and so on, knowing their product is a steaming pile of poo, yet they don’t want to look at it.

It seems whenever I have a great job doing UX with a great company, as soon as they ask me for my take on something, and I’m COMPLETELY, and professionally honest, I find myself out of a job, because the employer doesn’t want to look at the truth.

So, my losing my last job, which suddenly ended yesterday, wasn’t because I did a usability analysis. It was because I didn’t say anything about a huge project they had been working on for YEARS, and telling them – specifically one of the owner’s whose pet project this was for a major technology client, was a big steaming pile of poo.

After losing other jobs due to my honesty about a broken product, I figured this time I won’t say anything, as I wanted to keep my job at a very cool company.

When I came on back in January, I got to see a product, and it looked like it had a few months work into it at best. I didn’t know at that time it had years of work into it. 4 months later, this week actually, it looked a little better, but not impressive. And this company is known for doing very impressive stuff.

The owner wanted a specific thing, I got what he was getting at over the last number of months, but for some reason that didn’t seem to get translated to other people there. So I designed an interface to at least make it usable. I originally designed an interface to make it really great, but we all know how things can go in a different direction. That happened a lot.

I should have been more forthright, telling the owner the issues I saw beyond the issues he saw. Yes, there was a high probability I would have lost my job sooner. Then there was a big demo to the big client. They decided they wanted to change direction. And I found myself out of a job- with the explanation that having UX in house was an experiment , and to this day, I know that for the most part most all companies consider UX to be a luxury item.

If there’s not enough work, or a big enough need, then we, as UX’ers, are a luxury item. Honest UX’ers are even more so.

If you want the truth about your product, site, app, etc. and are willing to listen, have an open mind, not be offended, and let me fix it and create an amazing experience, then great. Hire me. If not, then I’ll pass.

Really.

And that’s the truth.

Random Thought- Making Champions of User Experience Design

The other day I was sitting in church listening to our pastor (Miles McPherson of the Rock San Diego), and he was talking about how important it is to share with other’s what God gives us – he was speaking in the context of when God blesses us with hope or peace or comfort, that we need to be a conduit of that and not a cul-de-sac and then give that to others (no matter who they are).

Now, I truly believe this, but that it not only applies to me as a Christian, but as a User Experience Designer- that I need to be a conduit of good UX practices to others I work with, and not a cul-de-sac where we keep UX design as some sort of secret passed down from UX practitioner to UX practitioner, and that we belong to some secret usability society, where we meet once a month at some hall, wear funny hats and the leaders wear hooded robes, and we’re sworn to never tell a single soul what we know or how we do what we do. There is no Grand Poohbah of UX — that I know of.

I’ve known UX designers who think we need to keep it close to our chest, that what we do is some sort of unreachable knowledge that only we can possess.

And then there are those who think we should educate our co-workers on what good usability is, what makes good UX design, and hopefully that will cause them to become champions themselves of UX, and so we don’t have to be small single voices in a crowd, shouting out “UX! UX! UX!!”, but that maybe if they understand what we do, how we do it, and how we make decisions beyond putting boxes on a page (what we’re basing that on and why we’re doing that), and make UX design ACCESSIBLE to them, then THEY will become champions of using User Experience Design and of what we work so hard to deliver every day. What we are extremely passionate about.

Then we are not one small voice in a crowd, being drowned out by “well, we did it this way before and it’s not perfect but we got the project done!” But instead we now have developers, product owners, and executive team members wanting UX design, and allowing us to drive the project as far as usability, look, and feel from concept to completion.

Given, there will still be some who are against us, who feel they did fine without doing UX design before and during a project (as in an Agile environment), and think they really know what’s best…

But there will be those who will be for our cause and goal and our passion, and know we, as a team, have the user in our best interest and to delver the best experience we can possibly give.

 

Random Thought – How does a UX designer become one?

I thought this round I’d post about an interesting conversation I had the other day with a fellow UX designer. I had invited him as well as a UI designer and his family over for dinner at our house- I had planned on grilling lots of good stuff outside with everyone being able to relax on the patio looking out at our expansive view, but being it was 105 outside at 5:00, well, my wife and I went with plan B by everyone just staying inside and doing barbecue indoors (crock pot and iron skillet..). And that worked out pretty well. But I digress.

The conversation was about how we all got involved in UX/UI design. My buddy Mark had studied Cognitive Science at UCSD. Zach and his family hadn’t arrived yet so I didn’t get to hear about his education. I commented that I was in fact a film student at UCSD (for a brief period) as I was working towards a film major (but with the dream of landing in Disney Imagineering as I loved to animate, draw, and engineer things), and that at the time I went there, they didn’t offer any classes in CogSci, or HCI, or Human Factors. As a matter of fact, no university was offering classes in anything computer/human related. No, I’m not that old.

Back in my day (which really wasn’t that long ago), we did have classes in computer science which consisted of BASIC, PASCAL, ForTran, and some other fun languages. So then the question came up of how I landed in UX Design, which is a good question. Being that my goal was to be a Disney Imagineer, I was reflecting yesterday how wonky my career path (and job history in general) has been, or at least seems to have been since the first job I had. But if I really look at where I am now, and know where I’m going to be eventually, then it all kind of makes sense.

So what’s my education in user experience design? Experience. Lots and lots of experience. My first job at 15 was as a video editor for a local TV real-estate show, and also working the front counter of the video rental business that was tied to it. That summer I worked as a graphic designer for a large sill-screen and T-shirt shop.  Then I went on to work for a mobile electronics shop (as in CB’s and car stereos) where I mostly did installs at 16, which then led to a retail job at a Radio Shack (when the employees knew electronics). That led to a job at Sea World, where I worked in retail (at Captain Kids ToyChest demoing magic tricks). I then ended up working at a pizza place- delivering pizzas, washing dishes, prepping food; and then another one at the same time. I then found myself working for 60 minute photo, which then led to a job working at a Famly Fun Center, where I fixed arcade machines, and occasionally had to dress up as a big Panda that loved miniature golf. Eventually I went back to Sea World to work in production in the entertainment department (I filmed the birth of a baby beluga which aired worldwide), and later with my comic robot for the beginning of Sea World Summer Nights), which then led to a job with a local TV station, and then a production company, and that led to a job working for the city schools as a multimedia production specialist. I also ended up teaching interactive multimedia at night school.

That led to a job with an interactive multimedia company as a programmer and project manager, which then led to me having my first company – a digital media studio, and that led to working in the web. And that led into industrial design (which I studied in college along with architecture). Which then led to working with designing ui’s and experiences for mobile devices as well as designing mobile devices. And then next thing I know I’m doing software design and interaction design at HP. Which lead to having a job as a real UX designer (okay, though I had been doing UX design already more than 10 years prior..). And now I’m designing UI’s for iOS and Android.

And that’s the experience I draw on every single day in order to create great experiences.

 

 

 

 

Random Thought (more or less) – Wake Up San Diego, UX is here

I read an interesting article posted this morning through the UX Professionals LinkedIn group, in regards to why UX salaries will continue to rise – the article is here.

It goes on to say that UX Designers and UX folk in general are in high demand but in short supply. Okay, I’ll buy that. I get that a lot from recruiters about how we are hard to find, especially good UX designers.

I’d say the software companies (custom solutions, government, video games, e-commerce) and retailers in the big markets get that, and the importance of UX design. Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, the San Francisco surrounding bay area — they all get UX and covet the importance of having great user experiences designed. It’s mature in those areas. There are LOTS of openings for UX design folks in those places.

But somehow, the place I grew up in and love so much, San Diego, isn’t really getting it. I don’t know why, but it was kind of the same back when the web was forming. Those other places got it and San Diego was slow to the race. Okay, to be fair there are a few companies that get it, and there are single champions of UX in lots of companies shouting out loud how good UX is needed, the importance of it, and to the point of going hoarse because no one is really listening. In San Diego, for the most part, UX is a luxury. Most companies figure they have good developers who can code really well, and that’s good enough to get the job done.

The problem with that is even though developers make good code, they don’t have the insight to make a good product, or good customer experience. I often tell people that UX designers are like an architect and the developer is the builder. We listen to what a client wants and needs (we emote and listen to their feelings), and then design the perfect house or building (their app or website) for them. We design the plans, pick out the colors and furniture, or in some cases work with the interior designers to create a great experience. Then the builders come in, follow the plans, build it, and see the thoughts and vision come to life. THAT is one of the most amazing and rewarding parts of being a UX designer.

But a lot of companies are happy with having the builders. Until they hire or contract a UX designer. Then suddenly all the stuff they’ve built in the past pales in comparison to what the UX designer has created. And hopefully they get that UX design IS important. And sometimes they don’t.

So, when companies here in San Diego interview or are looking for a UX designer, most don’t seem to know what to look for. At least that’s been my experience as I’ve either worked on contract for, or interviewed at. Usually when I leave after an interview, it makes them consider really what UX is, and that they need to reassess their needs. The good thing is I’m helping them understand what UX design is. The bad thing is they then aren’t ready to hire – anyone.

Some want a UX designer who can do wireframes (check), interaction design (check), visual design (check) and program (uhh..). Okay, so three out of 4 ain’t bad. Some places I interviewed at have interviewed other UX designers who won’t even touch visual design (what??), and would rather farm it out (again, what????). Some want a UX designer who only wants to create wireframes… and some want them to come up with great ideas and leave all the other stuff to the experts.

So, I guess I’m not like a lot of UX designers, since I grew up drawing, designing, storytelling, engineering (you should see my plans for a flying Delorean..), taking really complicated things and making them simple, and yes, at one point even programming. Okay, so I don’t program now, but I get programming enough to know what can and can’t be done, to be able to look at code, or talk to coders and understand what they’re saying and respectfully speak their language enough that I don’t sound like some design lunatic. I can tell them what I want, point them to good examples, design out the kinetics so they get what the experience is supposed to be for the customer, user, audience.

I’m very passionate about great user experience design. And there are a lot of great user experience designers here in San Diego. It’s time companies stopped relying on doing so-so, “good enough” projects, whether they’re e-commerce, government, educational, consumer, marketing, or even entertainment based.

Time to wake up San Diego. UX is here and we’re ready to do great things.

And that’s my Random Thought for the day.

Greg – Renaissance something or other guy.

Random Thought- Responsive Web Design (an Analogy)

I thought I’d get this down somewhere, recorded in history before someone else claims they came up with it.

“What is it?” you ask. Once in a while, somehow I come up with clever thoughts and analogies for everyday things. Interestingly enough, someone in the office brought up the subject of responsive design,  and how difficult it is to do well, or at all. My thought and then answer was “Uh, no, it’s not.”

And to be truthful, really, it’s not, or shouldn’t be. Really.

It’s not that I was being cocky, or arrogant, or too sure of myself. I just feel deep down inside that people make a big deal a lot of times about things that are really quite simple, if you take the time to really look at them from a less-cluttered mind. Or even from the eyes of a child. I’m not saying one should be childish and immature. That gets you nowhere fast. But as designers, we need to be child-like at times – seeing things with wonderment and simplicity.

That afternoon I had an interview with a local creative agency to do some UX contract work, and the subject of responsive design came up again (coincidence?). The project would be for a pretty big web site, but had to happily live on the web, on a tablet, a smartphone, and even on someone’s big screen at home. So, the manager asked me what I think of, or more so, what does responsive design mean to me? How would I approach it?

My answer (and this is why I’m recording this for history): Responsive Design is pretty much the same as branding (if you worked in advertising or marketing you’ll get this – if not, then wait and you will). Take regular Coca-Cola as an example. It’s a good brand – everyone knows what to expect when they drink it, no matter if it’s from a bottle or can, i.e different packaging, but it’s the same exact experience.

So when designing a site, it needs to be the same exact experience — people need to feel like whether they’re on a smartphone or tablet or computer, there’s no shock in moving from one to another. And I truly believe in designing for the smallest thing first, where you don’t have a lot of real-estate, as well as people on the go want to get to what they want and need immediately. It’s good design. I highly recommend reading the 10 Principles of Good Design by Dieter Rams.  Or look at it this way. If you buy an 800 square foot house, are you going to buy a ton of furniture, or enough to make it a nice place to comfortably live? Also, think about what you need so that if you go up in square footage, it will work equally as well – but the idea is it still works and still feels like home. You might add on a few extra pieces to compliment what you already have, or lay it out a little different, but it’s still the same content.

Now that I have that recorded for all history, I can move on now.