Transcript: Ask the UXperts — UI for Non-designers with Everett McKay

Transcript: Ask the UXperts — UI for Non-designers with Everett McKay

Everett McKay
Summary:

Today I had the pleasure of hosting Everett McKay in our Ask the UXperts chatroom, talking about UI for non-designers.

Here is the transcript of the session.

Today I had the pleasure of hosting Everett McKay in our Ask the UXperts chatroom.

Everett is Principal of UX Design Edge and author of UI Is Communication: How to design intuitive, user-centered interfaces by focusing on effective communication and this morning he was sharing his knowledge on the subject of UI for Non-designers.

The premise behind Ask the UXperts is one expert, one hour, all your questions answered. It was a busy session and lots of great questions were asked and answered.

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.

HAWK
Ok, I’d like to introduce Everett McKay, our expert for this session.
Everett is the Principal of UX Design Edge
and the author of UI is Communication: How to Design Intuitive, User Centered Interfaces by Focusing on Effective Communication
He runs a public class called UX Design Essentials (http://uxdesignessentials.com) and an onsite workshop called UX Design Essentials Workshop (http://uxdesignworkshop.com)
I’m going to moderate this session and queue questions for Everett
I’ll also post a full transcript of the session up on UX Mastery later today
Thanks very much for your time this morning Everett
Everett M.
You’re welcome, HAWK!
HAWK
So let’s kick off with a brief introduction to the subject of UI in your own words Everett
(I know it’s super broad, so do your best)
Everett M.
UI generally?
HAWK
The subject of the session is UI for non-designers, but as Paula pointed out, there is some ambiguity around terminology
So a very broad overview probably makes sense, and then we’ll get into some more specific questions
Everett M.
A good dictionary definition of UI is the interface between a technology and its users.
 
Traditionally the focus has been more on mechanical usability–just being able to get tasks done.
HAWK
Has that focus changed in more recent times?
Everett M.
A more modern approach, largely the result of Steve Jobs, is to recognize that we are interacting with people, not robots and that has many implications.
HAWK
So Paula’s question was “I would really like to know/understand the “new concepts” or “new names” that are being used now a days, like UI, UX, Front-End…they all seem the same to me”
Everett M.
On the subject of UX design for non-designers, Matt Magain recommended this topic. I was a bit surprised at first, but quickly realized that I have based my business on teaching UI design to non-designers, so this is a very comfortable topic for me.
Matthew M.
My review of Everett’s book is here if you guys haven’t seen it. http://uxmastery.com/review-ui-is-communication/Welcome Everett!
Everett M.
The terminology is largely the same, although mobile is changing things. In mobile, it’s tap not click. It’s screens not pages.
 
Of course, agile, lean, and responsive are huge new buzzwords now.
HAWK
How do you see the ‘phablet’ (I hate that word) changing that terminology.
Won’t it mix things up a bit?
Everett M.
I teach a mobile version my class, and a core assumption is that mobile means designing for small screens.
Paula M.
What is “phablet”?
Matthew M.
Everett McKay: How do you describe the difference between UI and UX to people? :)
Vicente S.
phone + tablet
Everett M.
That assumption is that mobile means small screens. If phatlets are common place, that distinction is less important.
HAWK
Paula Mourad: Phablet is a phone/tablet (like the new iPhone6+)
Sure, makes sense
Everett M.
Matthew Magain, I’m a bit fast and loose with my distinction between UX and UI.
 
UI is what you see on the screen, where UX is the entire experience.
 
OOB (out of box) is UX, performance is UX, layout is UI
HAWK
If anyone has a question that they’d like to throw into the mix, please do so.
Chris M.
Hi everyone, I’ve not done one of these before, what’s the format? Q&A?
Paula M.
If UI is what you see on the screen, then that would be a job for a designer correct? Does he/she need to deal with coding?
HAWK
Chris M: Yup, just throw questions in at any stage. If things are busy I’ll queue them for Everett. If not, we just chat. I’ll post a transcript up on UX Mastery later today
Everett M.
Designers don’t have to deal with writing code but they have to deal with people who write code.
HAWK
So a basic understanding would be useful but not crucial?
Everett M.
So being tech savvy, and understanding the capabilities of the UI toolset being used go a long way to maintain credibility.
Chris M.
Are you seeing more transition of people from a non-visual design background moving into UX/UI careers?
Everett M.
A top complaint I hear from programmers is that their BAs and PMs spec designs that aren’t feasible with the tools they have.
Paula M.
BAs and PMs spec? <– ?
Everett M.
@Chris, certainly that was what I say at Microsoft. Jensen Harris is very highly placed on the Windows team and formerly the office team, and he had a BA in music.
HAWK
Business analysts and project managers
specify
Paula M.
If you see a job position for a “Web Designer” and a “UI Designer”, what would be the main difference?
Everett M.
Web designer does web pages, whereas UI designer might be web pages or desktop or mobile apps.
HAWK
So there is no difference between a UI Designer doing a web site and a Web Designer?
I hadn’t realised that. I figured there was some kind of UX technique stuff involved.
Everett M.
I’m pretty lose with my role names. Others might draw distinctions that I don’t.
HAWK
So I have a question on another tangent. Is it possible to improve the UI of a product I’m working on if I don’t have confidence in my visual design skills? What would you recommend?
Lauren H.
Everett- In your opinion, should a UX professional have balanced skills and knowledge in business, coding, and design? Or heavier in one area than another? For example, mostly knowledgable about design, some coding skills, some business skills.
Matthew M.
I agree. It depends on the project I’m working on and the team around me as to what title I give myself :D
Everett M.
I’m not a visual designer and that hasn’t been a problem for me.
Chris M.
It’s reassuring when I speak to people actually working in the field that they don’t feel not having technical design skills is a barrier necessarily (although a lot of job adverts still seem to specify technical skills). But I come from a marketing, content and communication background without formal training in design tools. I still feel I’d have a lot to offer in a UX role from an analytical, research, planning and content perspective. Is being able to communicate your ideas to designers the key thing?
Matthew M.
What did you do to figure it out Everett?
Everett M.
In my case, my interaction design skills are very strong. I understand visual design quite well but can’t do it myself. I think it’s important to understand visual design enough to give good feedback though.
Chris M.
Any starting points you’d recommend to understand more about visual design?
HAWK
So do you work with a visual designer as well? Is that what you mean?
Matthew M.
A lot of people I talk to are a bit hazy on what interaction design includes. Could you elaborate?
Todd K.
So would you have to work with a Visual designer Everett? Say on the team?
sorry duplicated
Matthew M.
Haha snap
HAWK
Todd K: Snap
John S.Which is the silver bullet for landing a job in UI field? Is it a degree in Design n’ Arts, is it the previews experience … ?
HAWK
Matthew Magain: And snap again!
Everett M.
Yikes!
 
I would say that having strong design skills makes you a player. Having strong team and communication skills makes you successful.
Paula M.
I applied for a job with the title of UI designer. In my first interview, they asked me about my design skills, etc. (I expected them to). Then all of a sudden they mentioned “Front-End”, and I collapsed LOL. I didn’t know what that was (still figuring it out). How is UI different from Front End?
Everett M.
John Smith: I’m not aware of any silver bullets, but having the ability to make good decisions based on knowledge and experience, plus having the skills to convince people trump degrees or certificates.
 
Paula Mourad: I would define Front-end as tech-speak for UI.
Paula M.
So it’s just a pretty word for UI?
Everett M.
Not a difference in practice. It’s just in contrast to back-end, which is presumed (incorrectly) not to involve UI.
Matthew M.
In my experience when a job includes the words “front end” they mean HTML, CSS and JavaScript coding
For web roles anyway
HAWK
Paula Mourad: Although you should probably clarify that with them because some people expect Front End people to have HTML/CSS/JavaScript experience
Wow Matt, what’s with us today!
Matthew M.
Telepathic! :D
HAWK
So that’s interesting. Back end should include UI?
Paula M.
That is my confusion. I read articles on front end and it has a LOT to do with html, css and js. While I believe UI doesn’t.
John S.
According to this: front-end = Coding || UI = what is it expect communication and design ?
Everett M.
John Smith: I assumed “front end design”
HAWK
John Smith: I would say that that is a fair assessment, but as everyone uses these interchangeably, I reckon it’s always a good idea to be very clear in an interview of what the expectations are
Chris M.
As you’ve said, knowledge and experience is crucial, but so must be the experience of others. As someone told me recently, we now have two decades of data on websites so there’s no excuse for guessing what works on websites. I’m aware of some of the recommended books etc on UX theory, but are there any resources you’d recommend where people share their hard facts, successful trends, useful data etc? I’m starting to plan in some user research projects without any experienced UXers in our company to learn from so having to teach myself a lot of it…
Everett M.
HAWK: Regarding backend, that’s a typo. Meant UX here. Backend design totally affects performance, scalability, responsiveness, error handling, etc. Too often, these “just happen” instead of being designed from the UX point of view.
Matthew M.
This is a good resource Chris: http://zurb.com/quips
Lots of random stats in there
Everett M.
Chris M: You just mentioned a strong topic in my UI is Communication book. I believe the HCI profession is way too dependent on user research and user testing. We should know much more than we do, and that’s where the communication angle fits in.
 
We know how to communicate on a human level and we should take more advantage of that.
Chris M.
Wow, thanks Matthew M, that looks like a great resource.
Matthew M.
My pleasure. I attended a workshop with the Zurb guys recently. They’re a smart bunch. :D
Paula M.
What’s HCI?
Everett M.
For example, Microsoft shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that hiding the Start Menu meant that people couldn’t find it anymore. Duh!
HAWK
Human Computer Interaction
Everett M.
Paula Mourad: OK, looks like there are more new terms than I first thought. Sorry!
Chris M.
That seems a very valid point Everett M – I guess that’s where experience and shared experience/knowledge come in too. I wouldn’t need to charge a client £1000s to test out whether red is a good colour for a call to action button for example, on the basis that it’s been tested and experienced thousands of times already.
Matthew M.
I think that’s a valid point Everett. It doesn’t help the case for user research if there isn’t some expertise thrown in there to give a starting point. Yes we need to understand our users, but we also need to understand our craft.
John S.
Everett the example that you used for Microsoft, has to do with the UI designers, or the UX researchers?
Todd K.
To that point (start menu) do you feel you need to support every UI change or are some more self-explanatory
Chris M.
I guess that’s where hypothesis and research crossover a bit as well – some hypotheses don’t need to be heavily tested when experience, logic and existing knowledge all point to the fact that they are correct?
Everett M.
John Smith: Regarding hiding the Start Menu? I was on the Windows Vista and 7 teams, but not the Windows 8 team. I suspect it was more a political statement than a usability decision. A bold way of saying “this is a new direction.” I suspect the execs tried to cram it down.
Todd K.
But they still hid the start button :)
John S.
UI designers, had an idea: “let’s hide the start button”. UX team shouldn’t reject for obvious reasons that idea?
Kyle F.
Everett – thanks for taking time to do this. Also, I’m from Vermont (Colchester)! Now living in LA. Could you give a brief example of a UX/UI design challenge from your past and the process you went through, team you worked with, in order to try to tackle it? That might help to see how all the pieces connect (UX, UI, programmers, etc.).
Everett M.
I explore what it means to be intuitive a great deal in my UI is Communication book. An intuitive UI communicates well.
 
I think that any interaction that all users need to know should be intuitive.
 
We can make things unintuitive, but that should be for interactions that are advanced, infrequent, or optional.
 
The Windows 8 Start Menu is not advanced, infrequent, or optional, so this isn’t a hard decision.
Paula M.
I believe that the statement of intuition can apply to any kind of design, from editorial to multimedia, to digital.
HAWK
Great question Kyle!
Everett M.
Gestures are interesting because they aren’t intuitive, but they are advanced, redundant shortcuts so that is OK.
 
Kyle Fitzgerald: Let me think about that one for a few mintues…
Chris M.
On the unintuitive point, out of interest have you had any briefs where you’ve been tasked with making something almost anti-UX? As in you’ve been asked to make it deliberately difficult for users/customers? This is clearly something that is done by some companies, hiding their complaints procedures for example.
Matthew M.
Chris M: I heard a rumour that GoDaddy deliberately make their UI unintuitive to force you to call them, because they know they are more successful at closing a sale over the phone…
Everett M.
Chris M: Advanced modes are often unintuitive by design. Sometimes delighters are unintuitive by design as a reward for expertise.
Matthew M.
I’d believe it. It’s a terrible interface!
Paula M.
Matthew Magain: Magain: I agree!
Lauren H.
one word: at&t
Everett M.
Chris M: I recently had a discussion with someone from Audi where they are purposefully trying to discourage drivers from using new advanced features for fear that it would make inexperienced drivers over confident.
Matthew M.
Wow that’s interesting
Paula M.
That it very interesting
This is “how far can we apply technology”
Chris M.
GoDaddy I can believe, plus a couple of other domain companies. One in particular makes cancelling auto-renewals, for example, very difficult. The Audi example is a very interesting ‘real product’ example too.
Everett M.
Matthew Magain: I routinely use GoDaddy examples to show how not to design. I bet they use revenue to backup every decision they make. However, short-term revenue doesn’t buy long-term loyalty.
Matthew M.
Yes, the more we evolve with this stuff, the more we’ll be faced with the question of not “can we” but “should we”… :)
Everett M.
Matthew Magain: then there is facebook.
Chris M.
Everett M: How much crossover do you see between software and ‘physical product’ these days for UI designers? Or do people now tend to specialise in one or the other?
Paula M.
Matthew Magain: Magain My words exactly! An idea can be so cool, but then….”should we?”
John S.You have mentioned till now cooperation with Microsoft, Audi and I am sure the list is endless.
How did you started your career? Were you familiar with the field of UI? What did you study, and how you did it that far?
Chris M.
GoDaddy and several mobile phone companies I’ve heard used a few times too as examples of ‘bad’ user design. I guess it’s a common theme with recurring income companies – where the customer ends up thinking something is too much hassle to cancel and carries on paying them anyway, or stops asking for refunds. Like you say Everett, they much have the revenue data to back up the decisions.
Matthew M.
I am constantly baffled by the GoDaddy interface. It’s a to-do item on my life to migrate all of my domains away from them, for that reason and because their ethics are questionable, but I never seem to get around to it
Everett M.
Chris M: Funny you should ask…I’m thinking about writing my next book on embedded UI because it is done so poorly. My observation is that hardware companies generally view themselves as such and don’t worry about the software too much. As a result, it is usually poor.
 
John Smith: I got started as a programmer. I quickly learned that having a good UI was the key to success, and that I wasn’t very good at it.
Lauren H.
do you feel you need to be a “natural” at it or can good UX design be “learned” if you work hard enough?
Everett M.
John Smith: At the time (late 80’s) nobody was very good at it. Once I got good, I found that doors opened quickly for UI devs that also understood design. So few do.
Vicente S.
“good UI was the key to success”. was it? or the experience? or both?
Everett M.
Lauren Hays: I would say that most people who take my class probably aren’t naturals, but find themselves doing UI/UX and want to do it better. I think the one thing you really need is interest and drive. You have constantly pay attention.
Chris M.
Matthew M: I guess that makes you a great example of why they do it. I’m the same, had it long on my list of things to do to move my domains away from there, but never got round to it. I’ve had similar problems with 1&1 and then end up every year seeing money come out of my account for something I forgot to cancel or gave up trying to move. Proves why it works for them I guess.
Matthew M.
Lauren Hays: I believe very strongly that it can be learned. We asked Everett to run this session for that very reason. Practice make perfect!
Everett M.
@vincente Today you really need both. Good UI was sufficient back then. Apple has raised people’s expectations.
John S.What about today then, that the competition is pretty hard, and most of the UI designers are first good designers. Most of the UX “generalists” are front-end developers or HCI experts, and the “UI non-designers” are trapped between them.
How can somebody break into the field?
Everett M.
Matthew Magain: Exactly!
Matthew M.
Everett McKay: Agree about Apple. I have this image of execs sitting around on their iPads at home, all thinking “Why doesn’t our enterprise software look this good and work this well?”
Paula M.
As a graphic designer, I really love to design the “look”, the colors, the shapes, etc. When I looked around me and saw that today you “need” to know coding, it made feel angry, because I would say “I’m not a programmer”. Does this happen with UI Designers?
Everett M.
John Smith: Perhaps the type of company is a fact. Most traditional software companies lack UX talent.
Kyle F.
What’re some of the UX/UI challenges in the future, with new technology bringing about newer ways to interact with devices (and perhaps more “things” to interact with)?
Matthew M.
Don’t be angry Paula! Embrace the code! :) If it helps, I’d suggest that it’s not necessary to be an expert coder. In my case, it has often been enough to be able to create a proof of concept or demo an interaction (or explore it for myself). All the cross-browser compatibility/security/best-practice stuff can be left to a dedicated front-end developer IMO!
Everett M.
Paula Mourad: From what I am seeing with my customers, I don’t think you need to know coding. You do need to understand what the UI toolset your team is using can do, but that’s not writing code. I have been working with my visual deisgner for 4 years now. I have no idea if she knows how to write code–the subject never came up.
Lauren H.
so basically know enough basic programming knowledge to communicate with the programmers and speak in their terms, but not necessarily know all of the semantics and higher level programming skills.
HAWK
Hey guys, we have 5 minutes left in the session. It’s been busy. Are there any burning questions that we haven’t had a chance to get to?
Everett M.
Kyle Fitzgerald: Mobile is huge and we are just getting started. It’s half my business now. For me, the key trend is higher expectations. Nobody wants to be trained anymore. Nobody wants to read a user manual. Intuitive, self explanatory UI is a requirement now but it didn’t used to be.
Lauren Hays: Exactly!
Kyle F.
Thanks
Matthew M.
We do have another ATU coming up in a couple of weeks—watch the website and your email inbox for more info soon
Chris M.
And what about the complete non-designers then? I’m not a coder, an interaction designer, or visual designer. I’m originally a journalist, now working in marketing. But I’ve been training myself up in UX because I really enjoy the analytical side and the intuitive aspect to it. I can mock up a wireframe and sketch something out and have a grasp of principles of design and dev. I guess my question then, is there still space within the field for non-designers to make a career out of it?
Laura M.
And piggybacking off of Chris’s question, what are the best steps to go about learning more so that we can make successful careers out of it?
John S.
…and if there is, can we have any resources to find out about these jobs?
Matthew M.
Chris M: I would definitely recommend picking up a copy of Everett’s book (he’s too modest to give it a plug, but I’m happy to!) As he says, it’s all about communication. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0123969808/ref…
HAWK
I’ll be posting a full transcript of the session today up on UX Mastery shortly. If you have follow up questions or things that we didn’t get to today, please make sure you post them up in the forums http://community.uxmastery.com/ and we’ll make sure you get answers.
Matthew M.
Here’s the review I wrote of it: http://uxmastery.com/review-ui-is-communication/
Vicente S.
Chris M: m: i don’t know if Everett is gonna agree, but I sure think that there is space in the field.
Everett M.
Chris M: Totally! Again, it depends on the environment, but I would say that you know more about UX design than most Microsoft program managers.
HAWK
If there are specific subjects that you’d like to see one of these sessions on, please let us know.
Lauren H.
Laura M: pluralsight.com is an excellent resource for learning anything tech related.
Chris M.
HAWK: Hamburger menus please (not really).
Matthew M.
Would love to continue some of these conversations in the forums after the session is finished:http://community.uxmastery.com
Chris M.
Thanks Everyett/Matthew/HAWK, some great answers and resources to finish off with there.
Everett M.
Matthew Magain: Thanks for the plug. If you want to improve your UI design skills, I really think it is the best book out there. Steve Krug’s book is so 1999.
HAWK
Thanks so much for your time today Everett.
HAWK
And thanks to all of you that joined us. It was a great session.
Everett M.
You are very welcome!
Matthew M.
Thanks Everett and everyone for joining the session. Please come sign up at the forums to keep the conversations flowing! http://community.uxmastery.com
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