Tag Archives: ux

User Focus 2014

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The speakers at User Focus 2014 didn’t just focus on the user; they inspired us all to think more broadly about the UX profession. The conference on October 17 gave me a lot of food for thought. Here are a few of the highlights:


Photo courtesy of Elaine Li

1. Consider the socio-cultural factors

Keynote speaker Curtiss Cobb described his research results looking at India’s socio-cultural barriers to internet adoption for women. Don’t forget about the social and cultural factors that influence users.

2. Look beyond the pixels in front of you

The UX profession is recognizing the importance of creating a unified, seamless, targeted experience across channels. We have to focus on the omni-channel experience to create a great user experience, not just on the individual websites or apps.

3. Responsive design is not the mobile design solution

We all know responsive design is increasingly popular for bridging the gap between desktop and mobile. It has its place, but it doesn’t solve everything. We have many techniques to solve unique problems. I hope Thomas Vander Wal will release a cheat sheet of his presentation that we can hang on our walls (hint, hint).

4. Use empathy to create accessibility

Svetlana Kouznetsova shared her personal experience growing up deaf when there was no consideration for accessibility. The most significant message was a lesson in empathy.

What if you couldn’t hear your favorite movie or participate in a video conference with your hearing coworkers? Try to empathize with the 20% of all Americans who have hearing disabilities the next time you are designing a website that contains audio. Provide quality captions for all audio content.

5. With digital empathy, tools measure emotion 

Andrew Schall and his team at Spark Experience brought the lab to the stage with a memorable live demo of emotion charted digitally in real-time. UX professionals now have a range of tools to use to measure the emotions of their users – eye tracking, electroencephalography (EEG), skin conductivity (sweating) and facial analysis, to name a few. These tools are now inexpensive, easy to use, less invasive than their predecessors, and increasingly accurate.

Thanks to everyone at UXPA DC, the sponsors and volunteers for making User Focus 2014 such a memorable event! I can’t wait for next year!


Photo courtesy of Jerry Doremus


Photo courtesy of Jerry Doremus


Photo courtesy of Elaine Li


Photo courtesy of Elaine Li


Photo courtesy of Elaine Li

Design Thinking Workshop

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What exactly is design thinking? Design thinking is collaborative method to solve problems. The method involves basic tools – a lot of sticky notes, sharpie markers, circle stickers, and an open mind.

sticky pads and sharpie markers at the design thinking workshop

John Whalen from Brilliant Experience led participants through the design thinking process during the workshop on June 14, 2014. John started with a short instructional period where he discussed the process of design thinking with one rule – no one is allowed to roll their eyes at anyone else’s creative ideas.

group photo of the design thinking workshop attendees

The task at the workshop was to solve the problem of a foreign family coming to visit Washington, D.C. The family wanted to use the metro to get from one location to the zoo. However, getting tickets, figuring out where to go, and other systems in place are confusing for tourists.

The five teams came up with creative solutions using the design thinking process to help create a better user experience for the flow of metro, the ticketing kiosk, family turnstiles, signage, and other pieces of the metro system.

a second group photo of one of the design thinking teams a group photo of one of the design thinking teams a third photo of a design thinking group the fourth group photo from the design thinking workshop the fifth group from the design thinking workshop

The design thinking process includes:

  1. Research
  2. Ideate
  3. Prototype
  4. Test (go back to step 2)

1. Research

Empathize with the users. Follow them around, watch them in their natural environment, interview them, have a diary study, and/or take pictures to research the users. Ask yourself questions like “who are the audience?”, “what do they say?”, “what do they do?”

Define the problem after some initial research by asking yourself questions like “what are the users really trying to solve?”, “what roadblocks do they have?”, and “what opportunities are there for creative solutions?”

2. Ideate

The goal of the ideate phase is to come up with as many solutions as possible. Use multidisciplinary teams, including the client and subject matter experts in the mix. There are no constraints to the ideas and you are looking for quality and quantity through exploration of the problem.

3. Prototype

Through simple, fast, low-cost creative expression, communicate the core elements of your solution to others. This can be done through sketching, props already at your disposal (office tools), or other cheap, creative methods. The goal in design thinking is to learn through design and testing.

4. Test

Finally, test your prototype with anyone. You learn about the user response to the prototype through testing. Over time, you’ll increase the fidelity of the prototype.

group photo of the design thinking attendees

Overall, the workshop was a great learning experience and taught participants to hold these types of workshops at their respective offices.

The following books contain more information on Design Thinking:

UX Strategy: Why and How

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UX Strategy with Janice James

Janice James shares insight about what UX Strategy is and why it’s important.

Who better to help us ring in spring than one of the founding mothers of the UX field and principal founder of UXPA, Janice James? With 25 years of experience in user research and user-centered design, Janice has plenty of wisdom on the subject of UX strategy. In her talk, Janice uncovered the commonalities among the many contradictory definitions of UX strategy, including:

  • The collaboration of a cross functional team.
  • The use of UX activities to understand the underlying purpose of the business and to design ways to achieve that purpose.
  • The use of data to inform design.
  • The resulting design that provides users a useful, engaging, delightful product or service.

Referencing Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Janice emphasized the importance of focusing your UX Strategy on “the why” and “the how,” rather than “the what.” Don’t let your strategy be driven by the technology or product for the sake of the technology or product. Instead, the strategy should be focusing on the purpose of the business, product or service. Only then should you focus on how you can achieve that purpose using the appropriate technology. To drive this point home, Janice asked, “Looking back, did any of us think we needed a smartphone?” Before smartphones, we were all content with our cameras, address books, day planners, calculators, encyclopedias, maps, telephones, and so on. Our lives would be very different if mobile phone developers had focused on the what (mobile phones) at the expense of the why (a convenient, multifunctional experience in your pocket). Finally, Janice answered the question, “Why UX strategy?” She suggested that UX strategy can help:

  • Change misconceptions about what UX is and what UX professionals do.
  • Develop trust between UX professionals and their colleagues in product management, marketing and other specialties.
  • Accelerate the inclusion of UX as a key part of the business strategy.

For more information about UX Strategy, Janice recommended The UX Strategy Conference. Summaries of presentations from the 2013 conference are available at UXmatters.com. Thank you, Janice, for your insight! And thank you to the new and continuing UXPA DC leadership for organizing this event and for making UXPA DC more accessible through free membership and event registration. Your efforts are what make UXPA DC so great. Janice James’ slides on UX Strategy are on slideshare.

World-Renowned UX Specialist and Author, Ginny Redish, Opens UXPA Redux Conference

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Ginny RedishWhat’s a User Experience veteran of more than 50 years best advice to make it in the field of UX?

“Take work-life balance seriously,”said Dr. Janice “Ginny” Redish. “Take time off. Be sure to take vacations!”

Redish, with a Ph.D. in linguistics from Harvard University and famous for her UX research, training workshops, plain language tutorials and writing for the web, was the star interviewee at the October 25th UXPA Redux conference. She has authored and co-authored seminal books in UX, including “A Practical Guide to Usability Testing,” “User and Task Analysis for Interface Design” and “Letting Go of the Words.” Redish spoke about the impact of technology on UX research, the effectiveness of today’s UX graduate programs and how best to maintain work-life balance.

Ginny noted that technology has always been important to UX research. “It’s always been about technology, even if technology meant a pencil.” She added that today there are many products available to help UX professionals conduct their research. When asked about her favorite tools, Ginny said that she didn’t want to endorse particular products. She always has her staff decide on the technology and she prefers focusing on working with people.

Regarding big trends, Ginny emphasized that the shift to mobile devices and social media is changing UX research. Now she is doing more writing and evaluating for the small screen. In addition, she has had to modify her training to accommodate tablets and smart phones. “Today, many people are using their phones as their primary computer.”

Regarding career paths for UX, Ginny shared that she is most familiar with the challenges and rewards of being a consultant. She worked at the America Institute of Research (AIR) for many years doing UX work as a consultant before anyone knew to call it UX. Anyone who wants to work as a consultant will have to learn to be very flexible. “You have to be very flexible as a consultant because you never know what your next project will be.” In addition, consultants sometimes have to be a little more aggressive as they introduce their ideas because they’re often brought into a project at the end of it.

Do universities adequately prepare students to enter the UX field? Ginny said that the students in the  audience would be better able to answer this. But she also referred to the UX programs at the University of Washington, University of Maryland and the University of Michigan as good programs.

What is a good book for UX professionals to advance their knowledge? Ginny highly recommended “User Interface Design Evaluation” by Caroline Jarrett, Debbie Stone, Mark Woodroffe and Shailey Minocha, and published by Morgan Kaufman.

How can UX pros stay motivated? “There’s always something new to learn. Who knows where we’re going to be five years from now?”

Blog writers needed!

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We at UXPA-DC have been fortunate to have some great blog writers and photographers volunteering as the real backbone of this blog.

And we need more! Whether it’s for a review of an event or a proactive interview, for just one time or regularly, we can use your help. Work on your writing skills and get involved with our fantastic UX community. And get some writing credits and some SEO Juice for your name, too.

If you’re interested, email me (Jonathan Rubin) at secretary@uxpadc.org

I got my UX job through Speed Networking (and you can too)

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by Molly Schwartz

speed networkingAs a job-hungry graduate student, I was peripherally aware of UXPA-DC, but I never thought its events were meant for me. I always assumed it was an organization for “real” user experience and usability professionals to get together, hobnob, and that I wouldn’t fit in. Luckily, I was proved wrong.

My internship supervisor was involved with UXPA-DC and he always encouraged me to check it out as a way to network and get plugged in to the growing field of user experience. His enthusiasm and unwavering intent to include me in UXPA-DC’s activities eventually overcame my inhibitions, and I finally attended a User Experience/Web Professional Speed Networking event co-hosted by UXPA-DC.

Thinking it would be an informal opportunity to meet lots of UX professionals and hear about the work that they’re doing over a beer, I just hopped over to RFD after work with the mindset that I was going to loosely organized happy hour. Boy, was I woefully under-prepared. The speed networking event was a structured, rapid-fire event with one purpose and one purpose only: to get people jobs. Even though I had no business cards on me and my “elevator speech” was unrefined at best, the event was incredibly productive and life-changing. I had the opportunity to sit down with employer after employer in three-minute intervals to tell them about my professional interests and giddily listen to them say those three little words that are music to any grad student’s ears: “We are hiring.”

I came away from the event with a huge stack of business cards, multiple contacts, and job leads. I was contacted the next day by the UX Architect at BoxTone, a tech start-up company, who I particularly connected with. I went in for an interview at BoxTone the next week, had a job offer the next day, and am now a happy member of the UX team at a tech start-up company. For any students looking for a job who are interested in UX, I would definitely recommend checking out UXPA-DC’s events because in my experience they produce more real results than any other networking event I’ve been to.

 Molly Schwartz is the Information Strategist on the UX Team at BoxTone, a mobile enterprise management company. In September she will begin work on a project to make digital information usable and accessible as one of the Library of Congress’ National Digital Stewardship Residents.