Yesterday our Campfire chatroom almost did catch on fire when EchoUser’s Mick McGee took to the floor. The place was pumping and the questions were coming in thick and fast. In what was one of the busiest and most engaging of these sessions that I have run to date, Mick was talking about a subject that is very close to his heart – Designing for Any Experience.
Mick is passionate about the philosophy that design is contextual and it’s not all about buttons on a screen – everything we do can (and probably should) be designed to optimise the experience. After all, what is life about if not people and experiences?
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 interesting in seeing just what we discussed, or you want to revisit your own questions, here is a full transcript of today’s chat.
For those of you that don’t know, Mick McGee is CEO and co-founder of EchoUser http://www.echouser.com/
and he is passionate about the idea that design is about more than just the project on your screen, so he offered to talk today about “Designing for Any Experience”
So Mick, would you give us an introduction to the subject? Tell us how you got into it and why you feel so passionate about it?
Then I’ll open the floor to questions and we can get into the details.
Sure, let’s dive in…
Perhaps best to start back in grad school where I studied System Engineering. Essentially optimizing systems, however they were defined. And optimizing for whatever experience you were going for, however that was defined. Basically, the start of my any experience.
We studied virtual reality a lot. We were trying to optimize ‘presence’ = the idea that you were REALLY there.
And minimize ‘cybersickness’ = the bad part of VR
We had to define what we really meant by those experiences – which was very different than typical engineering.
To take that all the way to the more now. We do the same thing for ‘Public Transportation Experience’ (for local Bay Area trains). ‘The Learning Experience’ (for an online education company…
All the way to ‘The Bagel Experience’ (trying to make it a premium experience like Starbucks did for coffee — the business, not necessarily the coffee)
And most recently, the Asteroid Experience, which was a project in partnership with NASA to figure out how to get asteroids more in the public domain.
That’s a lot. But basically a bunch of examples that the design process can, and should, be applied almost anywhere.
So what makes it different from the normal UX process that most of us follow (aside from the name)?
Great question. It’s how we mostly describe it to those not as familiar with the user centered design process.
Like the astronomers at the Minor Planet Center in Harvard who realized that they too could benefit from design on top of their asteroid database
Ok, so this is more about designing for life in context, rather than designing for the ‘internet’
But it also speaks to going more towards solutions and not just ideas
Yes! That is a big part of it. Context is ever present in everything we do
I’m going to shut up now. Who would like to kick things off with a question?
How did you truly discover your passion for design (overall)?
I’ll throw in that another reason we do this is that we work on a lot of complex products. Starting with the underlying experience really helps us ground ourselves as the in depth design work gets underway.
Passion: Helping people. And then always trying to iterate/optimize whatever we can to better help
First thing on new projects: Define the experience. The online education company, Gooru, is a good example. They have an online solution for video learning in early school years.
But they specifically told us to start by thinking of the LEARNING experience
which is far more broad than ‘online video education’
After that is laying out all the parts of the process on a whiteboard or otherwise. No mockups or anything else tangible until you really understand what you’re designing for
Tell us about your team.
Farshad / our team: Lots of varied backgrounds. Architect. Health informatics. Journalism. Hotel hospitality
As well as the usual suspects: industrial design, computer science, psychology
How did you truly discover your passion for design (overall)?
Passion, part 2. Touched on it earlier. But my mom worked on rehabilitating people with artificial limbs
first job i wanted was to make them
but working on computers eventually became easier :)
in grad school i figured out the cool things you could do on computers
that was when google had started and tons of other great things were on the horizon for design
I heard as a jr. designer, the button, the width of the layout or whatever is consuming you.
Right now I just mock it up and then let development figure it out. I
Tammy: Totally depends on the project needs. Sometimes perfect pixels & nitty gritty are needed.
Sometimes you can give concept designs and work with developers to ‘figure it out’.
Better have good developers ;)
I would be curious to hear tips on how to “evangelize” UX beyond the interface.
Speaks to the larger point that design is always in partnership with someone else. A close working relationship with good developers will make a TON of difference in how your design is created
I have read and believe that pixel perfect design is not practical in the fluid age we are in now, what are your thoughts
Matthew Magain: Hi! Things are flying in here!
Woo hoo! Some familiar faces, too. Hi all!
Asya: One reason we work on things like asteroids, bagels, coffee shop experience, shopping experience, etc. all these crazy projects, is to hopefully capture the attention of ux-minded people not in our profession
one of my favorite stories is a chef in boston seeing a conference design poster and realizing his plating experiments were ‘design’
he was iterating and getting feedback on what he was doing with plating food for diners
Ha, that’s awesome!
What was the most challenging (UX) part of the BART process?
Asya, part 2: You may be talking of more localized situations, like at work. Same thing, but different scale. Demonstrate wins and value add. You need to show a track record of success, and UX will spread beyond the ‘interface’
Catalina: BART is a public utility. If you have any familiarity with government, you know they work slow!
Great project. Really fun to work on. One of the hardest to see that what we came up with would be implemented.
Actually doing the project was logistical juggling. We rode along with people on their rides. Could be several hours of riding
Curious, would you have thought of the “learning” experience naturally?
Haha, maybe one day you can help New York’s god forsaken subway system. Thank you!
Yes! … Lisa / learning experience. It was definitely on my mind as the underlying thing they were really trying to enable.
BART is one big user experience fail right now :P
Their product was just the tool that was enabling it
Fun and easy client to work with because they think so synergistically with how we do
Was really happy to hear their CEO voice ‘learning experience’ as the real goal… Would like to find more like that!
How Do you explain to coders the importance of design Ux?
Laralalla / coders: Almost always by examples.
Never know what the ux “maturity’ of developers will be
Some get it right away. Some may fight the whole time
Thank you I read :-)
There are a few ‘value-add’ articles out there that may help your situation.
So if we start design process by brainstorming what kind of exp. we want to deliver. Have you found some proper tools for that phase. Lets say if you have pretty low interest product/service like simple gallery app?
Well can you post some links please?
Everyone – there are a few questions about resourses for UXers getting started. Rather than take up Mick’s time during this chat, feel free to join our community at http://community.uxmastery.com/ and I’ll work through that stuff with you there :)
Tomi / brainstorming / tools… What comes to mind first is the affinity diagrams we have all around our office. That’s basically post-it notes of your thought process
that’s laying everything out up there, then organizing, and reorganizing, then finding patterns.
okay so when you have found relevant exp so whats next
a simple way of starting, no matter the tool
i should say, no matter the product you’re working on
Larallala: Dan Rosenberg wrote an article on UX ROI a few years ago that got some attention here in silicon valley
what should quide your decision when you decide experience if it isn’t obvious
theme for chosen problem
I think thats the hardest part
Do you think virtual shopping is going to work. Take a look at this example.http://www.merchant.the360mall.com/
Neville: Really interesting stuff.
Will it work? Well, there are any number of trends that say it can. I’m not familiar with it myself, but the evolution of online stores, into more real life shopping experiences does seem very compelling
We worked with a client that is trying to do something like that for women’s closets: Threadflip.com. There’s a good bit of backing there. So, virtual shopping could follow that path.
Re ‘desiging for any experience’…for someone already experienced in UX (digital), what additional skills do you think are needed to expand to non-digital
Maadonna: As HAWK mentioned earlier, it’s really about context and how your design fits into it, whatever you’re working on.
Starts with whoever your users are. Need to know what they want and need, why, etc.
So, no additional skills :) An experienced UX practitioner already starts with users :)
So, skills are observational, aggregating information, distilling patterns. The research side of design
What should guide your decision when you decide on an experience if the theme isn’t obvious for a chosen problem?
I guess another way to put that would be “how do you start the design thinking process?”
Tomi: Hmm. Not totally sure the direction you’re asking. But whether it’s the users, your clients, developers, business people, somebody there has likely set direction that should guide a theme.
If you know some nice case studies from the field (video, article) or what ever which covers this beginning part of the design project it will help
Design is pretty much never starting in a vacuum with nothing to help guide you
but still many teams it feels that you have still multiple very good options to choose from or you can’t find any very relevant one
if your goal is to describe the wanted exp by some keywords
One of my favorite books that focuses on the earlier part of the user centered design process is A Practical Guide to User Requirements, Methods, Tools, and Techniques
by Kathy Baxter and Catherine Courage
So do you see the philosophy of designing to any experience as shaping the focus of UX? Where do you see it going in the future?
Giuseppe Vittiglio: That just answered your question about a favourite book!
HAWK: Understanding context, the ‘any experience’, has become super important to us in dealing with complex design problems
And we’re seeing a lot of more complex challenges
both in big giant products at the google scale
and subtle challenges like trying to create premium experiences out of something as simple as bagels
Thanks for all of you that have been emailing in questions. I’m shelving the more career focussed questions for now. It we get time, we’ll address those. If not, please bring them to http://community.uxmastery.com/ and we’ll support you there
i think ux and design generally is getting more and more integrated into everything we do and buy
thermostats, watches, etc., everything will have a ux component to it
So do you think there is room for agencies that design UX away from the internet?
In fact, do they exist?
we’ve tested inside physical stores
it’s more that the internet is creeping in on all these other things
classic industrial product design doesn’t focus on the internet so much. plenty of agencies there
Yeah, that makes sense. It will certainly take the onus of UXers to feel the pressure to learn to code.
coding is nice to have, but not required. really depends on the design environment you’re in
I see a lot of people coming into the fields from “conventional” backgrounds (architecture, UI, etc.)… how hard would it be for someone to come into the field from an unconventional background? In my case, I’m a lawyer by day… but I have basic design backgrounds (Adobe CC/ html), and I think some lawyer skills (research/analysis) would translate well.
I fired out an answer earlier that listed hotel hospitality, journalism, and other different backgrounds that found their way to ux
What path(s) would you recommend a current non-designer in terms of what to learn and/or practice to become a competent UX designer? Right now I’m in the library science field.
your research skill would definitely translate!
i often say that design/ux is only as good as your ability o communicate it. you would (hopefully!) have a strength there
build up a “portfolio”, even with the things you analyze and/or research. that’s totally valid portfolio material
i’d love to see more of that in portfolios
you’ll of course want some tangible design things too, but there are a ton of great design skills that could translate into Designer
Mick McGee: On the subject of portfolios, do you have an example of one that you think is really on the mark?
I’d guess a similar path. Great research skills. Try to develop some design. Make a portfolio out of both.
as for portfolios…
i’ll say that i LOVE to see process. there is a ton of finished design in portfolios. seeing the process of sketches, ideas, revisions, research, is something we really like to see in portfolios
i also love to see something people are passionate about outside of design. that’s where you’ll really see someone shine in demonstrating their design thinking
my favorite (worst) portfolio was from our design director, rally. rally is awesome at understanding complexity and then explaining it
Right, so incorporate some of your hobbies or personal projects into your portfolio, to demonstrate your range of skills
but it almost always starts with information flow, connecting patterns, etc.
Could you elaborate on that last point, Mick? Do you mean like a hobby someone has or groups a person belongs to?
a recent one that comes to mind is someone spent some time in a retirement home, related to family. they did a side design project that was really obviously full of meaning and caring
I see many UXers are just logical aruguer, no science behind…Love to work with creative problem solver
it was a way for folks in the home to tell their stories to one another. which they REALLY wanted to do, but mostly weren’t able to
really helped improve the whole being in a retirement home experience
just about everyone we’ve hired has some design project that was more personal or passionate. that’s where you can find a great designer
JC: I can probably also talk to that. When I used to work as a developer, when hiring other developers I’d always look at side projects that they did. Games they wrote, languages they learned etc – it gives insight into a lot of things that you don’t always see ‘on the job’
HAWK – completely agree.
Mick McGee: I have a couple of questions not directly related to the subject, but as we’re nearing the end I’ll drop them in. Rene asks: What is your experience with UX in a agile process like Scrum and especially in an enterprise environment with big development departments?
Agile is everywhere
You have to be comfortable adapting your process to fit a variety of dev styles
Agile can be chaotic, however
I’m generally a fan of iterative cycles as they can really advance fast
but it is a challenge for ux
i sometimes see agile/scrum as an excuse to focus only on engineering.
building those regular wins with these teams becomes even more crucial
having tangible artifacts like an affinity diagram can help a lot as well
Good to hear you confirm this of Agile, Mick – it has been my impression also.
We have 5 minutes left in the session. Does anyone have final questions to ask?
Thank you for this initiative and for your answers :-)
one of the best agile ux processes i’ve seen lately had a ton of things on the wall that caused developers to always go check to make sure they were on the right path
Mick what kind of reference material?
personas. affinity diagrams. vision concept designs. task flow diagrams
Okay – yep. All good artefacts.
Well, I think we’ll wrap things up now so that Mick can get on with his day.
But I’d like to say a massive thank you Mick, for your time and energy today
Mick M and Hawk. Thank you very much. I’ve learned alot.
This has been one of the most interesting ATU sessions that I’ve run to date
Thanks for having me. Been a LONG time since I did a chat like this. It was fun. Happy to answer more questions from anyone who has them offline.
Thanks, much food for thought here :)
Mick McGee: What is the best way for people to ask you those questions?
Thanks to both of you. Interesting insights shared along the chat that I have been written down :)
You’re a star.
Ha! Hardly. But I do like to help :)
Yes, the next session will be to do with Information Architecture, then hopefully Accessibility, and I’m also hooking up something to do with careers.
I’ll send out emails accordingly.