EMBEDDED AT MICROSOFT

If you do a quick search on in-house vs. consultancy UX work you’ll find a slew of articles by UXers like this, this, or this sharing their thoughts and observations. And when I think back on my classes at UW there were many conversations discussing the merits and/or hazards of both types of work.

From what I’ve read and discussed at school and with other UXers, here are three brief considerations regarding working in both environments.

Variety vs. Singularity. At a consultancy you have the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects while in-house you will most likely be dedicated to one specific product. In working on that one product you will get to see the impact of your work as you watch the product grow, develop, and hopefully come to fruition. In contrast, at a consultancy your work may or may not be implemented and you have very little control over this.

Slow Grid vs. Fast-Paced. In-house the work or progress made might be slow or drawn out due to numerous factors including business needs, legacy products, size of the company, etc. This, then can allow you the opportunity to make sure it’s designed and built based on informed research. At a consultancy the work can be fast-paced and you may feel the pressure of deadlines defined by the work contracted. Again, this can give you variety in your work – the opportunity to focus on one specific area of a product and then do something completely different on your next project.

Work-Life Balance. This one really depends on the company and the individual (more on this in a moment). I’ve read that in-house understands this balance better but I’ve also heard from others that they gained much better work-life balance after switching to consultancy work. At the same time I’ve heard from people who’ve left work-focused consultancies to go in-house where they found a much better balance.

A common qualifier that is a part of all these conversations and articles is that these statements are contingent on the organization and the person doing the work. Each are unique so in the end the choice to work in one environment over another ultimately comes down to the person and the place they’ll work.

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My UX experience up to this point has been entirely at a consultancy but I’ve just started on a two-month project where I’ll be embedded as a UX Researcher on a team at Microsoft. I’ll be developing and executing on a variety of research initiatives. I’m extremely excited to have the opportunity to work in-house for a few months; to experience the other side of the coin. This will be a tremendous opportunity for me to learn and grow as a UX Researcher and to also see what working at a large company, on a small team, focused on a few products is like.

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What has been your experience working in-house or at a consultancy? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. Thanks!

TIM BRIDGHAM, UX RESEARCHER

Roughly three years ago I launched this site and began my pursuit of a career in User Experience. During this time I spoke with numerous friends, colleagues, classmates, teachers, and acquaintances who all shared their time and advice in support of my goal. I shifted my focus on becoming a UX Researcher instead of a UX Designer. At my job, I was able to contribute my skills to more client-focused projects, learning a great deal along the way. And with each project my involvement focused more and more on UX research to where I was moderating usability sessions and collaborating on reporting. During this time I completed the User-Centered Design Certificate from the University of Washington learning from amazing UX professionals and working with driven and talented classmates to do some fun and engaging work. And throughout this entire journey, I had the incredible support from my wife who has lovingly encouraged me and has made numerous sacrifices to help me achieve my goal.

Today I officially became a UX Researcher at Blink UX and I am incredibly excited for what’s to come.

Geoff Harrison, Head of UX Services & Partner, announcing my new title. Cheers!

So thank you to Beth and Karen, Kelly, Kristina, Mark, Tom, John, Geoff, Brigitt, Randy, Skip, Layne, Jonathan, Jake, Louise, Nasahn, Sarah, Julie, Stephanie, Allan, Nick L, Piper, Roxane, Siri, Byron, Greg, Ankitha, Tristan, Darshana, Katie, Jill, Leili, Laura, Rebecca, Justin, Telle, Jenna, Ellis, Hayley, Nick W, Colin, Chris, Caitlin, Lu, Mom & Dad. To all of you, and the others - too numerous to mention, thank you for all that you have done to get me here. Without you this would not have been possible.

And my pursuit is not over. I’ll be striving to learn more, to continue to grow, and to become a better UX Researcher with each project I take on. In addition to continuing to share my journey, I’d also love to share others’ unique UX stories - all with the hope of helping the next person on their pursuit of a career in User Experience.

TRAINING: A CONVERSATION WITH JAKE FLEISHER

“Good user experience: great. Bad user experience: frustration."

  Jake Fleisher, Principal UX Researcher at Blink UX

Jake Fleisher, Principal UX Researcher at Blink UX

Jake Fleisher has had a somewhat unique path to get to where he is today. Similarly to me, Jake had passions, interests, and skills in areas that he thought couldn’t all be utilized together. That changed when he discovered industrial design. On Jake’s journey he discovered the important activities that go into industrial design (aka product development), like “research and assuming a user-centered standpoint.” Now Jake is a Principal UX Researcher at Blink UX where he utilizes his talents to deliver insightful and compelling work.

I’ve had the opportunity to work very closely with Jake on several projects. He exemplifies passion, curiosity, and a drive to make user experiences great. He has also been a great contributor to my UX training. I sat down with Jake and he shared a great example of some of the work he’s done in the past.

If you’d like to read more about Jake and his eclectic set of skills and passions head of over here.

 

*Photo for audio piece by Mark Gsellman.

A LONG OVERDUE UPDATE

It’s been some time since my last post so I want to take a moment to share a quick update.

This summer and fall have been jam-packed with so much good stuff. As a part of completing my degree, I took two courses this summer and I’m in the thick of it right now with a Social Psychology and a Social Research course. This puts me on track to graduate in May of 2017! At my job I was an assistant researcher on a physical prototype usability study. I’m working on writing more about this but some of the highlights were that I wrote the participant screener and session guide for the study, handled many project management tasks, moderated one of the sessions, and co-wrote the project topline report and final report. I learned so much and I’m excited to share more soon.

Also, I made some subtle but nice changes to my logo. [I guess the corporate branding website, Brand New has been rubbing off on me.]

Lastly, please check back soon. More posts coming including another audio interview piece.

THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT or THEY CAN TEACH YOU WHAT IS RIGHT

Growing up I remember seeing a wooden plaque on my dad’s desk that read something like, “Rule #1 The customer is always right. Rule #2 If the customer is wrong, refer to Rule #1.” This is the crucial starting point for designing great experiences. 

Products, services, or experiences must be designed with the customer's needs as an essential part of the design process. IDEO is a design firm that takes on this “human-centered, design-based approach.”

Human-centered design process outlined by IDEO.

In his blog post for User Testing, Spencer Lanoue outlines the two key empathetic methods IDEO uses to discover the end user’s needs during the inspiration phase.

  • Observing user behavior — Try to understand people through observing them. For example, if you’re designing a vacuum cleaner, watch people vacuum.
  • Putting yourself in the situation of the end-user — IDEO does this to understand what the user experience is really like; to feel what their users feel.

Many have lost site of this principle and are losing customers to companies who are designing with the user in mind. Sunrise, a calendar app started with this in mind when they set out to “solve some of the problems with calendars they heard from users”:

1. “Today’s calendar feels quite stale”
2. “My calendar takes forever to synchronize properly”
3. “Timezone support is a pain”

Dissatisfied with the stock Apple Calendar app I sought out a calendar app that would solve the problems I was encountering. Sunrise was the solution. After reaching out to Sunrise with a few improvements I thought could further enhance their app they invited me to their beta program and sought my feedback. Additionally, I participated in a one-on-one interview with one of Sunrise’s product managers who's desire was to know more about how I used the app and its services. And lastly, I was invited to participate in a secret project for a feature so new it wasn’t even in the beta app. 

A quick comparison between apps. Both a "days" view and "items" view split but Apple only show events for the date selected. Sunrise shows just two weeks of the "days" view to prioritize the events, not only of the date selected, but also for the following several days. Additionally, Sunrise adds pops of color and icons, which correlate to the type of event, to make the calendar less stale. 

Sunrise took the time and made the effort to discover and understand its user’s needs. 

In February of 2015 Microsoft acquired Sunrise and in October of 2015 Microsoft officially shut down the Sunrise app. When I reached out to my contact regarding the shutdown she told me “the team has moved on to revamp the Outlook app for iOS and Android.” Additionally, in their farewell post the Sunrise team promised: “We won’t stop innovating. While building Sunrise, we were always learning from and listening to you to come up with ways to delight you and make you more productive.” 

Remember, the customer is always right or listen, observe, and empathize and they can teach you what is right

A SLIGHT CHANGE AND A NEW FOCUS FOR UXPURSUIT.COM

It’s been a little over a year since UX Pursuit launched. In that time I’ve created over fifteen unique posts with many more in the works, designed some simple branding, and most importantly learned a considerable amount relevant to my UX pursuit.

One tangible insight relates back to my previous post and comes from what I learned around Google Analytics. As I mentioned, my site has a higher bounce rate and that is due in part to the way the information is laid out. Knowing that, I’ve changed the template of my Squarespace built website to make my recent blog posts more accessible. Now, as you can see, recent posts are displayed to the right giving readers a better sense of the other content they can access. So if you haven’t explored other post yet, please do so.

The other major takeaway applies to a new aim in my pursuit; to develop what I've learned so far by doing practical UX research and design work. I’m currently in the midst of a website redesign project and seeking another exciting project. The biggest way for me to develop my skills is to practice them so if you would like to collaborate on a project or know someone who might please get in touch.

uxpursuit@gmail.com

TRAINING: KEY INSIGHTS FROM CONVEY UX

Two weeks ago I attended a user experience conference in Seattle called Convey UX. I was able to attend a few workshops and hear several talks led by UX practitioners from around the globe.

There were three key insights I took away from Convey UX:

Jakob Nielsen

I have recognized the first idea over the past two and a half years while working at a UX firm assisting and observing researchers and designers. There are so many methods and techniques used in UX research and design, many of which were discussed at the conference, but they all should point to the second idea Mr. Nielsen states: it’s not about technology, it’s about humans.

The understanding that it’s all about humans has been a constant thought as I’ve been working, learning, training, and just living my life. It makes so much sense that we must first determine the human’s needs and then design the technology (or product) around those needs. Have the technology solve the need, don’t make the human conform to the technology.

Michael Beasley

One aspect of UX that has been growing in importance recently is analytics. I’ve only just scratched the surface of Google Analytics on this site so when I saw a workshop called “Web Analytics for User Experience” I jumped at the chance learn more. Michael Beasley presented the workshop and led us through the basics of what a powerful tool like Google Analytics can do. Beasley explained how analytics can help us understand why people come to a site, what people do while on that site, and how it can measure the effects of design change. To be clear, Beasley wasn’t advocating that UX researchers and designers live and die by the quantitative data that analytics provides. He readily admitted that analytics can’t answer the question of “why” a user does something but the quantitative data from analytics can give us clues as to why and provide us with more evidence to help guide our design decisions.

Based on  what I learned from Beasley’s workshop, I’ve looked at the quantitative data on this site and I can already see clues as to where my site could use some tweaking. For instance, in the last month I have a bounce rate of almost 96%. A bounce is when a user enters a site on a specific page and then leaves the site without going to another page or interacting with anything else on the site. Bounce rate is just the percentage of pageviews that are bounces. Seeing this high number (96%) and understanding what it was calculating has given me some clues as to how I can change my site to reduce my bounce rate. Because the home page of this site is my blog and because each blog post is shown in its entirety a visitor can essentially view all the content on this site except the few other pages I have (A UX Pursuit, About, and Great UX). If I want people to view more pages on this site then I should have each blog post show a preview of the content and then make them click a “read more” link to see the entire post. This would also give me a better sense of the posts visitors are reading most.  

Nathan Shedroff

Another workshop that caught my eye was Nathan Shedroff’s “Redefining the Value of Experience.” One goal of the workshop, namely learning “a new definition of value that expands the discussion and value for UX” aligned with some thoughts I’ve had around the importance of customer research to deliver great customer experiences. Additionally, I thought this would provide a good balance to the web analytics workshop I attended.

Shedroff’s key point was that we need to change our traditional ideas of value. Most commonly value, for a customer, is only defined as being monetary and functional (price and features). Instead he proposed that there are five kinds of value:

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Shedroff expanded on the two traditional quantitative values and added the three qualitative values of emotion, identity, and meaning. He also emphasized that all these values are never exchanged outside of a relationship! And equally important, you can’t create a relationship unless there is an experience!

Shedroff broke down these five values further by looking at their level of importance, from most shallow to deepest:

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  • Function = Easy to talk about, usually quantifiable.
  • Price = What am I willing to pay? Quantitative.
  • Emotion = How does it make you feel? Much more valuable than functional/financial, not quantifiable, often subconscious.
  • Identity = Is this me? Customer needs to see themselves in the product/brand.
  • Meaning = Does this fit into my world?

According to Shedroff, it becomes imperative to create great experiences in order to build relationships so value can be exchanged. And when we make meaningful connections through well-designed experiences it creates the deepest relationships possible. (I would add that it creates loyal customers who help build more relationships in support of the product/brand.)

To distinguish these five values a bit further, Shedroff separated them into either quantitative or qualitative.

Quantitative = [functional & financial] this is where traditional business tools focus.

Qualitative  = [emotional & identity & meaningful] = invisible to most business people. This is what needs to be designed and valued.

Shedroff explained that we shouldn’t ignore the quantitative values; in fact, he said that quantitative values are very important but they don’t tell the whole story. It’s the qualitative values that are seen as the premium values that distinguish products or companies.  

Shedroff summed it all up when he said, “Those companies who focus on premium value create more of it, more often.”

As I talked about in one my earliest posts, I care about people. I care about building lasting relationships with the people in my life and I go about building these relationships by getting to know people and sharing experiences together. This practice, as Shedroff points out, could be easily applied to UX research and design. By starting with this practice in mind you lay a solid foundation for what the customer truly wants and desires. Not only do you know where to price your product/app/service/etc., and what features it should have, you understand what will help build lasting connections to your customers because you understand that all the values that are important. Then by repeating this process throughout design, development, launch, and even after launch you are only creating more value.

I learned a few great concepts at the conference and I’m excited to put them to practical use. I’ve actually got a few projects that I hope will take off soon so keep an eye out for those. In the meantime, if you have feedback on this site I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment below or email me at uxpursuit@gmail.com.


*Photos by Mark Gsellman and slides taken from Nathan Shedroff’s SlideShare site.