Transcript: Ask the UXperts — Designing Successful Projects with Dan Szuc

Transcript: Ask the UXperts — Designing Successful Projects with Dan Szuc

After meeting Dan Szuc at a World IA Day event last weekend, it was my pleasure to host him in our Campfire chatroom yesterday morning, for the first of our Ask the Uxperts sessions for the year.

I’ve been running these sessions for a while now, and never before have I seen an expert do such an amazing job in the face of adversity.

The ‘adversity’ in this particular case, was that due to an email glitch, no one knew that the chat had started. Not letting that stop him, Dan orchestrated an amazing small group session for the first 20 minutes, at which point the email went out and we were flooded with 60 new attendees. Still unfazed, Dan continued to dish out information (and handy tips) at an astounding rate. I was more than impressed.

The subject was huge – we were talking about designing successful projects – and the questions came through thick and fast. Unfortunately we ran out of time before Dan could get to all of the questions, so we have started a follow up thread on our community forums. If you have further questions for Dan, or would like to see his follow-up answers, make sure you check out this thread.

If you didn’t make the session because you didn’t know about it, make sure you join our community to get updates of upcoming sessions. If you’re interested in seeing what we discussed, or you want to revisit your own questions, here is a full transcript of the chat.

 Dan S.A brief introduction: I have practicing UX and related disciplines for a little over 20 years now
And over the last 2-3 years we have been reflecting on our the projects we have worked on
and giving deeper thought as to the following:
* what are the type of projects that are more receptive to our practice?
* what are the elements or artifacts that make up a project?
* what are the fundamental elements we need to consider if we are to help deliver on valuable products/services?
* what are the frustrations that get in the way of people doing their best work today?
As we have deliberately abstracted away from UX, to gain more perspective
we have also been looking at other influencers or schools of thought that may be able to help us answer the question of what is needed to design successful projects
with the intention of making better work for everyone, so people feel more connected to the work they are doing and the people they work with
we are about half way through our research, as it took us some time to come up with the question on designing successful projects
but it has given us permission to look beyond UX and to gain a better understanding of what is happening in projects to see what we may need to fix over time
so …
let me finish the introduction by saying this
its a hard topic
but … its been fun to take this to different groups around the world to let people share their pain points and joy
Does anyone want to kick off the session with a question for Dan?
How did you narrow down to come up with a good question to start with?
 Dan S.
to give more background
About 2 years ago, I was at a conference
and a UX maturity model was presented
so as I was looking at this UX maturity model, I was concerned that UX was being presented as a silo and not part of an integrated project story
so if we were to understand what a mature project or production felt like … perhaps we should start by speaking to people from various project backgrounds
to see if we could come up with a practice framework and artifacts to help get everyone on the same page when delivering independent of role
so back to NatalieE’s question
the trigger helped us see that perhaps it was less about UX maturity alone, but maturity in general
so a question for the group
what are the best projects you have worked on?
what was it about those projects that made it feel great?
I suspect this will give us some observations towards maturity …
back to you all
The best project that I’ve worked on was a forum migration project. I loved it because we took a lot of time to ensure it was a success, and also because it pulled people together as a team
Dan S.
Tell us more about “taking time”
as time seems to be something that people perceive as not having a lot of
or we can look it another way
what frustrations do you face on projects?
then towards the end I can share some tips to think about
lack of UX maturity.
with in the organization.
I have one for the good bucket. For me it has been when we involved everyone, so from the project owners, to the developers, to the technical writers. We are lucky to going through this process now, and there has been a wealth of information gathered from the different areas, and getting them to be able to see who the people are who use our products.
Dan S.
ok lets look at those 2
we invited some of our devs to come along to interviews :)
Dan S.
lets start with lack of UX maturity
tell us more @jwranton
then we can get to @NatalieE
I’m in the Health care organization. We have 300 Business websites. And not one has ever been built with UX in mind. Thus, the most current project I’m working on they had our designer put together concepts before we ever knew what type of content or IA we would have.
Dan S.
ah yes, the visual design or design first approach before asking important questions first
is there an interest in UX @jwranton ?
They hired me as their UX Strategist.
So, I would say yes.
But still, very hesitant to listen.
or really they hear but they don’t implement
So that’s about values, yeah?
Dan S.
@jwranton: what do you think are the causes of the hesitation?
I ask, as there are usually behaviours in place before you started
instant gratitude?
Dan S.
tell me more
I think stakeholders want to see something more tangible than text on a document.
even if we’re presenting wire-frames, there is a constant barrage of questions about aesthetic.
Dan S.
meaning they want to see direct improvements in the design?
ah I see
tip: I think we underestimate the time and monies needed to educate
in our practice framework, we came up with an element called “academy” with the intention to educate on a regular basis
this can be as simple as ensuring
that when we use certain language everyone understands what it means
terms like
as examples
Projects always seem to be too ambitious in terms of money and timeframes.
Dan S.
can have very different meanings
depending on the audience
if design is understood as visual design
without an understanding of how to get to better design
this needs to be addressed
before spreading out to other projects
perhaps related is this
interesting. Have you experienced with implementing an knowledge base to solve this ?
Alina V.
we got stakeholders involved in a design studio session for our last project and it def helped
Dan S.
how do we assess that a project has the right ingredients to tell us we want to work with them
yes @jwranton but suggest workshops work better
get people into feeling/experiencing what alternative ways of work feel like
and demonstrate how it can be better
agree @alina v
tell us more about this
that’s ideal in a “agency” type environment but it doesn’t work the same for an internal design team.
Alina V.
It was for a recent project with a team of 3 (including myself). Also for healthcare website… We had only 2.5 weeks and a very broad brief… It was more of an initial exploration project. The organisation wanted to have something to drive conversations, to drive change.
For us it was a way to understand business’ priorities and what’s important to them
Dan S.
it has worked well for us @Alina V in that it gets people face to face and having conversations
often there are systems or organisational design thats getting in the way of people talking
I’m interested to learn more. Were they readily equipped with their demographics and user personas and with all of their KPIs?
Alina V.
Our client (digital publisher) never heard of design studio and main stakeholders were skeptical but once in the room and after our intro, they brought more people into the room and it was a very productive session
Dan S.
@jwranton: and Natalie asked 2 related questions
around user understanding
a studio setup can help get people into a room together
lets assume there is facilitation happening
how do you bring the user stories/insights into the room?
I am asking
as I consider user stories to be a critical element of the work we do
it often gets put aside for a number of reasons
do you also see this behaviour in your projects?
where user stories are not understood
and people design based on assumptions?
does the group consider user stories, observations and insights important?
Alina V.
we brought personas – their goals/needs, some examples of best practice design patterns (similar types of websites) and asked 2 questions where we had to imagine how we can support the personas in particular scenarios.
context definitely helps, examples helped to get people thinking that there is not just 1 way of doing things
Dan S.
what was the reaction to the personas?
did people connect with the people you were designing for?
how about you @jwranton ?
Are user stories and needs present in your work?
They should be. However, personas are based on assumptions
Dan S.
Ah yes, nice one @jwranton
this is also common
Alina V.
the client kind of knew general needs of the user group but not specific ones for each persona. personas did resonate with them though
Dan S.
why does the group think that project team members, stakeholders like to design from assumptions?
what causes this?
we have a broad class of users.
Dan S.
this is important for us to unpack a little
Members, providers, brokers, and then for each SBU those personas are different.
Dan S.
very good @alina v
Not enough research and iterations from feedback is the main reason
they can tend to think they know their users
Ian F.
@Dan ego, self-belief, laziness
Dan S.
NatalieE – yes
they know their users but have NO data supporting it.
Dan S.
yes @Ian F
yes @jwranton
so do we all consider that user understanding and bridging this understanding into improving design is critical?
to designing a successful project?
Alina V.
user research is important to define personas and validate them constantly but we started with proto-personas first then re-iterated them based on user interviews and online survey
Dan S.
nice @alina v
yes, it’s important.
Dan S.
good good
so lets pause for some tips
as it relates to todays topic
brian m.
what are some tenets of a successful UX project?
Dan S.
* assess the teams we work with to better understand their receptiveness in what we do and their backgrounds (get to know them)
* invest in education to help form a common language on the project team (as there may be terms we assume are well understood but are not)
* get the team to talk to who they think the customer is and what gaps there may be in their knowledge
* use the gaps as a way to outline assumptions together so we can go out and learn about our users to better bridge into design
* have a central space where research and design discussions can happen in parallel so we see design improvements over time
* and last one … learn about the customer data points that exist, so we can see how to weave this into a common customer understanding
for a read on the importance of stories –…
So Dan, Brian asks “what are some tenets of a successful UX project?”
What are the best customer data points to consider when designing successful projects?
Dan S.
and one more to help give an overview of our practice thinking ……
Awesome tips thanks Dan. You’re an absolute star.
Dan S.
ok back to the group
brian mcfarlane: m – yes I like the intention of customer journey maps
in that they help people see connections to roles in the project team
and how this maps to the customer interactions
the customer interactions should drive the designs as they give clues about task models
a customer journey map may have multiple layers to help tell a holistic story re: interactions, gaps, architecture etc
Jonathan F.
which deliverables are essential to learn for a UX designer just starting out?
brian m.
what are your thoughts oncustomer journey mapping software like I don’t work with them just love the tool
Dan S.
what are some tenets of a successful UX project?
some tenets:
* a well understood story that everyone on the team can connect to
* speaking to customer needs first and balance this with business goals
* a room whereby people can iterate around designs and use the customer stories to test out the goal completion
* team members who go along to user sessions and learn directly from those stories on how we can improve designs
* well documented assumptions that are discussed and debated to help identify the core
@jwrantonJonathan F. Check out The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett. There is a ton of useful information on UX deliverables.
Dan S.
Are a few that come to mind …
brian m.
Its interesting how UX can mean different things to different people, there seems to be a user research, market research aspect that proceeds the build
Alina V.
@Dan “* speaking to customer needs first and balance this with business goals” – absolutely agree. in my experience, when communicated to stakeholders, it helped to gain their buy-in/trust.
Dan S.
have not used the software to create customer journey maps
Do you have any tips for how to hold the repository of information about the people you’re designing for (e.g. user research and call centre info) or do you think you just weave it into a story and periodically review the story?
brian m.
Smaply is great for it by the way
Dan S.
@alina v customer stories have a wonderful neutralising effect on a team, as it allows people to get their head out of being trapped in the business lingo for too long
Danielle: I am fan of keeping artiacts really simple
Julio C.
What would you recommend as a good first UX projectto use in a portfolio for somebody just starting out in Ux coming from a visual design background,? A new app idea or a web app or website?
Dan S.
and see a connection between personas, customer journey maps, stories and designs
Jonathan F. asked “which deliverables are essential to learn for a UX designer just starting out?”
Dan S.
I liken it to one big storyboard
where people can speak and move between the artifacts
we must have real customer stories
and rolling user research
so a mix of exploration and validation should be going on all the time
which is another tenet of a successful project
hey everyone. I am going to be practical. There are times when we can provide a solution which is hard to give a reason as why – coz its subjective. How do you convince people around that your UX solution is the best?
Alina V.
@Dan S, absolutely. Thanks Dan! It is a challenge though to link UX insights to ROI and value to the business. Do you have any tips?
Dan S.
so …
a number of questions still to answer
brian m.
smaply adresses that really well Dan, I would also look at the customer factory on to help pull together all these moving parts into just three distinct areas. great for team sharing using apps like rocketboard.
Dan S.
and think the session is nearly over
is that right @HAWK?
That’s right :)
Dan S.
there are some very good questions
and certainly dont want to rush answering as we are short on time
I can open a thread on our forum for you to come back to them when you have space, if that works Dan?
Hi to those of you that have just joined us. We’re actually just wrapping up, but we have a few questions left to answer so I’ll open a thread on our forums right now
Dan S.
forum works
lets do that
Alina V.
Thanks Dan! Once your research is complete, will it be published? Can we get updates on it while it’s work in progress?
Dan S.
I think thats a nice wrap up question
so … you can read the following by way of background
if the unanswered questions are still relevant after reading the background articles
I am pleased to answer in the Forum
thank you all …
and as I said
hard topic
HAWK please send on the questions I did not answer and or add tot he Forum
wishing everyone a good day!
bye for now
until the next time
same Bat time
same Bat channel :)
Written by
Sarah Hawk
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