UX Mastery Podcast #1: Q&A Webinar

UX Mastery Podcast #1: Q&A Webinar


The first episode of the UX Mastery podcast is a recording of the recent webinar that Matt and Luke hosted.

Topics covered include how to get started as a UX Designer, what to put in a portfolio, and how to operate in a UX team of one.

We recently hosted a Q&A webinar, for which over 80 people registered to have their questions answered.

While we couldn’t answer every question that was asked, we did cover a lot of ground during the one-hour session. It was a lot of fun, and we’ll definitely do it again in the future. In the meantime, here’s a recording and transcript of the audio from the webinar.

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MATT: Hello everybody that’s dialed in so far and welcome to the UX Mastery Q&A. We’ve got Matt and Luke on the line. We’re just going to wait for a few minutes for all of the attendees to join in before we kick things off. How’s everybody doing this morning? It’s morning in Australia anyway. Not sure if you guys are familiar with the GoToWebinar control panel, but there’s a “chat” and there’s a “question”. It’s all a bit confusing actually. Can you guys hear me okay? Silence!

LUKE: [laughs] They can’t talk back to us.

MATT: They can’t. They can chat though. If anybody wants to chat … aha, Dex can hear us fine. That’s wonderful. Luke and I haven’t done anything like this before so there may be little bumps along the road. We appreciate your patience as we iron out the kinks. It should be fun though. We’re very appreciative of anyone who has joined us in a time zone that’s not very convenient. It’s pretty hard to find a time that suits absolutely everybody. It’s currently 10:00 am in Melbourne, Australia for Luke and myself. But I know that some people are staying up late to join us and we hope to make that worth your while. A behind-the-scenes look at how organized or disorganized we are. [laughter]

Well, it’s 10 o’clock so we’ll kick things off and I’ll say once again, welcome to everybody and thank you for joining us. We’ve got Luke and Matt on the line from UX Mastery. What we’re going to do today is hopefully answer a bunch of the questions that we had come through from attendees to this webinar. We’ve had almost 60 – so we’ve got 60 minutes and 60 questions. I’m not sure if we’re going to get through the entire list, but we’ll see how we go.

Very quickly, if you’re not familiar with UX Mastery then I’m surprised that you’re here, but hopefully you’ve all seen our website, uxmastery.com. We like to think of UX Mastery of being more than just the website. We’re quite proud of the fact that we’re building a community around user experience design and user experience training. We do have a Twitter account where we like to tweet interesting links; both to articles that we’ve written as well as stuff that we find on the web that we like. And we try and do the same thing through the other channels: Facebook and our email newsletter that comes out every two weeks as well.

Hopefully a bunch of you guys are at least already subscribed to at least one of those channels. We’re trying to find our way with doing some training. Both Luke and I are quite passionate about not only user experience design but about helping others develop as designers, so we do have an eBook that’s in the works, which we’ll tell you a little bit more about at the end of the session.

We started dabbling with doing some in-person workshops. I taught one in Sydney a couple of weeks ago and I’ve got another one coming up later in the year in Sydney. But we do want to try and take those workshops and convert them into an online format, basically so that we can reach as many people as possible rather than just making it an Australia-only thing. So watch this space on that.

Very quickly a bit about Luke and myself. I’m just including this information not because we’re trying to big-note ourselves or because we’re looking for a job or anything, but just so that you guys have some context about the answers to the questions. For a lot of the questions there is no one right answer or black and white answer, but we’re going to try and answer based on our experience. This is our experience.

I work as a freelance user experience designer and I started UX Mastery last year with Luke. Some of the clients that I’ve done work for include Australia Post, SitePoint, which is like a start-up incubator here in Melbourne that launched a couple of well-known start-up companies; 99designs is one of them, which has done quite well. We’ve done some work for the Australian Labor Party and then a handful of other clients.

And the thing that I’m most passionate about is communicating visually – so the sketch notes on the site is one example about that. I’ve always been a visual thinker, and communicating using visuals is really what I’m most passionate about. I’ll let Luke introduce himself.

LUKE: Good morning everyone. Similar to Matt, I’ve got a background in web user experience design. I currently do some work for Penguin Books; a couple of days a week there, working in their marketing department, working with designers and developers to do eBooks and apps and some of their main websites. I’ve been working with a few other clients as well, including the Australian Open and the Blake Prize. I’ve been doing UX-related things for probably about ten years.

Stuff that I’m very passionate about is design with soul or design with some of that human meaning behind it. That’s the kind of stuff that I like writing about and talking about.

MATT: Very good. And you might have just picked up on the fact that Luke’s come down with a bit of a sniffle overnight, so if his voice doesn’t hold out then … I have no problem with talking. [laughter] So we do have a rough agenda for today. Thank you to everybody who included a question when you registered for the webinar. We had nearly 60 questions come through. What we did was we sorted through them all, we looked for duplicates, we grouped them, and we’re going to tackle them in order of the most popular groups of questions that came through.

The number one category of questions was career-related so we’ll tackle the career questions first. Then we’ll look at questions related to education and training. There were quite a few questions about how to evangelise and champion and sell user experience within an organization. Then we’ll tackle UX processes and UX techniques—there were a few specific questions in there. We’ll talk about roles, the role of UXer and the different roles within a team. And lastly: tools, resources and other miscellaneous questions that have come through.

So what I’m going to do is I’m going to hand control of the webinar over to Luke, who has the question list. And doing that should mean that you guys can see the questions in advance and you can see what’s coming up. And that should hopefully reduce any other questions that come through as being duplicates. Have you got that spreadsheet there, Luke?

LUKE: Here’s the list of questions everyone. You can look ahead. Off we go.

MATT: Cool, so we’ll keep the highlight on the question that we’re talking about at the time that we’re talking about it. Number one question and definitely a question that people ask on the website quite a bit: how do I get started in the UX field? Well, conveniently there is an article on UX Mastery that tackles this. You guys might have seen it. Maybe you haven’t but basically, I believe there are a bunch of ways that are really useful for getting started.

I’ve broken them up into six sections. The first section is about getting educated, about learning stuff. We have become a big fan of the online course that David Travis has published over at udemy. It’s called User Experience: The Ultimate Guide To Usability and I said in the article that we hate this course because we wish that we’d created it. It really is a remarkable achievement, what David’s put together in this video course. There is seven and a half hours of video and it covers everything; primarily usability related. He touched on visual principles; he talks about really everything related to the user experience spectrum and primarily usability.

The thing I love about this course is that he’s really anchored all of the advice in solid theory. So he starts off talking about the ISO standard for usability, which I didn’t know existed before I reviewed this course, so that was interesting for me. And yeah, it’s a great course. It’s about $200. If you use the discount code on your UX Mastery, which you can find on the site—we’ll include it in the notes at the end of this webinar as well—you can get 20% off.

But in terms of getting educated, yes there are a ton of books out there that we love and recommend but that course … it’s a remarkable achievement, what he’s pulled together, and will certainly be a great place for anyone who’s looking to get a good grounding in user experience. The next thing that I recommend you do is get the right tools. Sorry, did you want to add anything to the education stuff, Luke? I know we have a few other education-related questions but …

LUKE: No, I mean, there’s things like books for beginners that we’ve got in our resources section that I think would be an excellent introduction too, but I totally agree that David’s course would be my first port of call if I was looking at getting started.

MATT: Yeah, when we started UX Mastery we had grand plans to create a similar course and then we saw it and we were like [groans]. He beat us to it! And that’s not to say that there isn’t room for other online courses but we’re kind of busy at the moment and haven’t gotten around to pulling together something that comprehensive. Maybe that will happen at some point down the track. But in the meantime we’re more than happy to recommend David’s course. He’s a nice bloke, he knows his stuff and he’s been teaching this stuff for years as well as being a practitioner.

So in terms of an education point of view he’s done a great job. I talk about the tools—specifically I talk about prototyping and user testing tools. Balsamiq Mockups is the prototyping tool that I’m a fan of. There’s a ton out there that are all excellent, it just happens to be the one that I’ve latched onto and used the most. But in terms of putting together a prototype of a web app or a mobile app, I’m a big fan.

Then user testing software, screen recording software – I use Silverback. It’s a Mac-only app but there are plenty of other tools out there for doing screen capture and recording the audio. So what that software does is it captures the screen while the user is using it. It also uses the computer’s in-built mic to record their voice. If you’re facilitating the user testing session, what you want to do is encourage the participant to talk out loud, tell you what’s going on in their head, tell you why they’re confused when they get confused, tell you what they make of the page when they’re looking at it for the first time.

Really get them to explain and help you get inside their head and then that records that audio. And some of the tools, like Silverback, also use the computer’s built-in camera to record their face. I don’t think this is necessarily vital to a good user testing session but it can be useful to have, in the little bottom right corner, the person’s facial expressions and a bit more body language about what’s going on as they’re interacting with the app.

The reason I say, “Get the right tools,” as the number two point for getting started, is because once you’re armed with these two tools you can go and do user testing just using your laptop. You don’t need expensive labs; you don’t need to hire out a venue to set up the equipment; you’ve just got this portable user-testing lab in your backpack, in your shoulder bag, and you can set up anywhere and do user testing.

So once you’ve got those tools in place, you can do user testing within your organization, maybe you want to help out a friend who’s got a website – you can do user testing for him, you can do it in a café, you can do it in an office, you can do it anywhere. And the more user testing you do the more insights you get into how people interact with your software and the more you learn about usability.

Number three: get some experience. Once you’ve got those tools in place, you’re well positioned to go and actually do some user testing. And I think that education is fantastic, whether it’s a formal degree or whether it’s a course like David’s, but really, for me, the most I’ve done in terms of learning about user experience is from doing it. If you’ve got the tools and you’ve got a client who is partial to having you help them usability test their software, then that’s the best way to get started and get some experience. Any thoughts or anything you wanted to add there Luke? I’m going on a bit here.

LUKE: I’d totally reiterate that. Just jump in the deep end and start applying the principles if you can on work you’re already doing, or, like Matt says, work for some friends or a local charity or community group or something like that. Jumping in that deep end and just getting started will teach you more than learning off a course or out of a book.

MATT: Yeah, because David’s course is excellent, but the one thing that it’s lacking is actual experience. So you can actually watch a video about how to do something, you can understand the theory, you can know it all – but it doesn’t give you the confidence to apply it. And that’s the key here because being a good UX designer, I believe, is a lot to do with confidence: whether you’re facilitating a session, whether you’re conducting a user testing session – it’s all good to know what to do but you need to be comfortable and have those people skills and that confidence to actually pull it off. So this is how you get that experience.

And I think that’s a great idea Luke; working for a non-profit, a charity that’s close to home, that you believe in, that you’re passionate about. Luke and I have got a non-profit organization that we’re using as a test bed for trying out some UX stuff so we’re working for free for those guys and it’s been invaluable. Next point is …

LUKE: I was just going to say, before you went on Matt: one of the advantages of building up some experience is, when you are getting started, maybe applying for some jobs and being able to demonstrate your experience by showing a portfolio or something like that is also very useful. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but having had that experience, getting it all under your belt and being able to communicate that by explaining to a potential employer: “Here’s what I did in this particular case,” or, “Here are some examples of the type of work I’ve done,” would certainly be very helpful in getting a job.

MATT: That’s so true. And we’ll talk a little bit about portfolios later in this section I think, but certainly what Luke said, in terms of being able to talk about your process – if you know all the theory you can’t really answer the question: “When was the time that you applied this or that you did that?” So getting that experience … And whether it’s a paid client or whether it’s time that you’ve volunteered, that doesn’t matter because if you’ve got the experience in doing it, you can talk about it, you can explain your process. And that’s what people are looking for when they’re looking for a UX designer.

Next one is to get connected. Certainly by participating in the UX Mastery community. I hope that you’ve felt more connected to some of the thought leaders out there in the user experience space; on Twitter but also in person. There is a lot of value to be had in connecting with like-minded souls. Luke and I had a chat, I remember, it must have been six months ago – we were talking about how user experience is such a broad umbrella term and we were trying to work out what it was that meant that when you went along to a UX Melbourne meet-up, we felt connected to these people even though they had various different backgrounds.

And the one thing that we settled on was this concept of empathy. Good UXers have good empathy for their users and for their stakeholders and it’s that warm, fuzzy feeling that makes you feel good about your job – for me – and for the same reason it makes you relate to other UXers in the field. Agreed?

LUKE: Definitely. Like you say, getting connected – the soft skills part of the job is a large portion of that. Being able to facilitate meetings and be friendly, be transparent in what you’re doing – all that kind of stuff is certainly in the mix when you’re networking with people, for sure.

MATT: And it’s such a different world these days, where you can connect one-on-one with thought leaders that have written books that are presented at conferences and just hit them up, have a chat. And I feel really privileged to have interviewed folks like Jeff Gothelf and Donna Spencer from UX Australia, just because with the technology these days it’s really easy to connect one-on-one with these people.

The next point I suggest in getting started is to get a mentor. A lot of people struggle with this; they find it really hard. There is always lots of reasons why: “I can’t find the right person,” or, “I live in a remote location so it’s really hard for me to connect with someone.” And I think that you need to push through that and find a way. I mentioned that technology has changed the way that we connect with people and there’s really no excuse to not put yourself out there and connect with someone.

For me, find a mentor has been crucial in terms of how I look at my career. If I look back and look at various stages where I felt I really achieved a milestone or put myself out of my comfort zone to take it to the next level, that was as a result of my mentor pushing me, encouraging me to not be complacent and take the easy option. So I’ve been very fortunate that my mentor – even though we don’t catch up all that often; it’s been months since I’ve seen him and we actually haven’t spoken that much about specific process or techniques.

I had this vision of a mentor explaining to me the details of how to tackle a complex design problem, but actually, the conversations we’ve had have been more about career and more about … he’s the one who encouraged me to leave my salaried role and go freelance. He’s the one who encouraged me to get up and do some public speaking and put myself out there a bit. So you’d be surprised sometimes if you find the right person, how the conversations travel. Have you got a mentor, Luke?

LUKE: It’s important to get that … I don’t have a mentor at the moment. I’m certainly interested in learning off anyone that I can. I have a few colleagues and I go along to a few events. I think that somewhat goes towards getting some of that input and learning from somewhere that isn’t my own experience, which is think is the important thing – you obviously can’t design in a vacuum but you can’t develop your skills and things purely by experience; you’re going to reinventing the wheel.

I think having that personal feedback from someone who knows you or can see you and what you’re doing, means that if you don’t have that awareness of yourself, they can certainly suggest some things for you. I went through a stage of looking for a mentor and the Information Architecture Institute had a few things and I had a few enquiries going there, but unfortunately I didn’t push through and I wish that I had.

MATT: Yeah, and I suppose the other thing to remember is that your mentor can be valuable in terms of connections; both for jobs or for clients, if you’re freelancing. I’ve had a little bit of work come through my mentor and I’ve sent him a little bit of work, so it’s another valuable connection, if anything. Then the last point is to get hired, and we talked about portfolios a little bit, earlier.

Lots of questions that I’ve had have been about, “What shall I include in my portfolio?” So very quickly – portfolio in a summary, I believe should be different from a visual designer’s portfolio, because the stuff that we create isn’t necessarily as “pretty” or “colourfully compelling” to look at. The important thing about your portfolio should be that it shows you have a process and it is the Launchpad for you to talk about that process.

LUKE: It’s true. I think it’s also about the story of the development of the product that you’ve been working on. So rather than a visual design artefact that’s the end result, a lot of user experience work is the process of design and being able to tell the story of how things changed or how you made a bit of a difference. And being able to demonstrate that stuff by showing before and after or points where you had particular insights into the work that you’re working on.

MATT: Yeah, the before and after is definitely going to be compelling if you’ve got hard data. So if you’ve got conversion rates before you redesigned the checkout page and then conversion rates after, and assuming that you do a good job and those conversion rates go up, then there’s some hard data that you can say: “Hey, this is the process I followed for this page, this is what it looked like first. After it looked like this. And this is how much it helped and how much money it made the business.” That’s the way to make a compelling case for being hired as a UX designer.

But also, in terms of triggering conversations about your process, stuff like photographs of you facilitating a session or perhaps doing some affinity diagraming or showing the messy workspace that you’ve created, so that people can get an insight into how you think and how you work. Okay, so we’ve just spent 20 minutes on the first question, so hopefully …

LUKE: [laughter] We’ve covered a few other things as well.

MATT: That’s right. Hopefully we’ve spoken to a few of the points in the questions ahead. But let’s take a look at the next list. Making the leap from web to UX. Really, it’s a similar path I believe, and one that I’d recommend. You need to get an understanding about usability and about the user experience field. So following those same steps is definitely recommended.

In terms of the web, I think if you’re a designer or a developer or maybe a content person or a project manager in the web space, you’ve got an advantage because the terminology and the challenges that are unique to the web—it’s stuff that you’ve already covered off. You don’t need to learn the basics of that. You’re probably all over responsive design and really it’s just about getting that understanding of human behaviour and finding a process that works for you, that is user-centred. So yeah, the same advice applied. Anything else to add there?

LUKE: I would just say that yeah, probably as a web designer there are some things that you’re already doing that are possibly more UX related; design research, talking to people who might be using the product, or talking to stakeholders is certainly a big part of the input. And if you’re already doing that already then it’s not such a daunting prospect. So making that jump across is probably more a definition of your priorities in doing user-centred design rather than a totally new field.

MATT: Yeah. For me, it was a big deal for me to come to terms with the idea that I was being arrogant in the design process I was following. I wasn’t being transparent. I was expected to go away and make magic and come back and present it, and that’s what I would do. I would put my headphones on and I’d go into the creative zone and I would create a couple of designs and then pick my favourite and show all three to the stakeholders and we’d talk about one or two and we’d launch one of them. And there was no explicit user involvement at all. We just thought we knew best. Because I guess it was embarrassing to consider the prospect that we didn’t know who our users were. Or maybe it was … I’m not sure. I think I’ve blogged about it. Sorry, go …

LUKE: I was just going to say, detaching the ownership of the design – if you’re a designer then you think that your expertise is being employed to be able to provide those artefacts or the end results, whereas I think detaching your ownership from the design is relaxing your thinking as a design expert and listening to the opinions of the people; your users, who may not necessarily have design skills. And that’s a very challenging thing to do; to take what they say and make it work. But it results in a better result. [laughs]

MATT: And it’s interesting to see if I look at my role over the last couple of years, I’ve become more of a design facilitator than a hands-on designer. The idea of being collaborative and involving stakeholders and staff and users in the design process, letting them drive it and being just the conduit to make it happen – that’s made for better outcomes.

I’m loathed to say it’s made me a better designer because that sounds like my skills at designing have gotten better, but I think it’s more about becoming that design facilitator, owning the process and getting everyone involved. Then the outcome is better and like you said, the ownership is detached but it’s for the best. And if you can accept that I think that you’ll be a better UXer as a result.

LUKE: Totally. That’s very true.

MATT: There’s a question there that says: “How can I make the jump from QA to UX. I assume QA means quality assurance. I’m not going to speak about quality assurance specifically because I don’t know much about that industry, but I will say that UX has come from a very diverse range of backgrounds and I think that regardless of the industry that you’ve been in, there’s going to be some stuff that you have learnt that will be valuable and that you can leverage in the UX space.

So whether it’s as a QA person, whether you’re an industrial designer or a developer or a project manager or … I’ll even say something non-digital. There are things like communications skills, like collaboration skills, people skills – these kinds of core business skills that sound like soft skills that are really peripheral to doing a job. They are a core part of being a UX designer. So could you make the jump? Absolutely. Leverage that stuff that is going to come in handy for dealing with people, for being transparent and for championing user-centred design and you’ll be well on your way.

“How do I break into the UX field?” I think we’ve covered. Preparing to apply for a job. We’ve talked about portfolios. Did you have anything to add to portfolios or connection there, Luke?

LUKE: No, I think I mentioned it before. Portfolios, as I say, aren’t the be all and end all, but they certainly are a useful tool in being able to communicate your experience. And as Matt talked about, the personal networking; if there have been people that you’ve worked with in the past or who you’ve been colleagues with for a while then they will obviously be able to advocate for you too.

So as you said, being able to get those opportunities and hear about the jobs going – and usually, because it’s a fairly trusted role I think people don’t necessarily put someone in cold into a position of responsibility. Some might come in via a reference of someone who can actually vouch for you. So portfolios certainly help in terms of demonstrating and giving some surety about your process and previous results you’ve been able to achieve. But there are a lot more things to consider in there too.

MATT: I’m sure that you guys have heard the statistic that 90% of jobs aren’t advertised. And I think it’s pretty hard to measure that, but in terms of my experience, I think that it’s probably bang on. Most of the jobs that I have been fortunate to get over the years haven’t come because they were advertised on a jobs board, they’ve come because somebody spoke to me about something or got wind of a project that they liked and then asked who the designer was and that person said, “It was this guy.”

So in terms of those connections, it’s kind of invaluable. Next step for a career in UX after some training?

LUKE: That really depends on the position or the context that you’re in. You might be working in-house, maybe you’ve got a team around you. You’re probably going to look at developing some skills to compliment the people around you or introducing what you’ve learnt in training and getting a bit of culture change happening if you need to, or encouraging the team in a certain direction. That’s going to be a bit different to if you’re working freelance, where you’ve got a little bit more control over your process or your approach. But it’s really going to depend. I don’t think you ever really stop training. You do more training.

MATT: Yeah, assuming that this person asking this question has for example completed David’s course but hasn’t got any experience under their belt, then really, getting that experience is going to be the next big thing that you should focus on. Whether that’s with a local charity or a friend’s website, or whether it’s you having a chat to your boss and saying, “Look, I really think user testing on this software that we’re working on.” Explain that it doesn’t need to be a week of your time; it can be an afternoon.

And with your portable usability lab, with the software that I mentioned earlier, you can pull in a few people, put the product in front of some participants and start that user feedback loop. Then your foot is in the door. And when people start seeing the value of that – especially if you show them the videos; recently at a client I had a hard time convincing people that usability was a big issue with the products we were working on, so I recorded some users struggling in front of it.

And these people were just struggling; they were all over the place. They couldn’t find any of the information; they’d just go down these rabbit warrens and get stuck and frustrated. And all of that frustration I captured on video and then I showed management and said, “This is someone using your website.” And it’s pretty hard to not empathize with someone who is struggling that bad and are failing in the task that has been given to them.

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And I won a lot of people over. I think I put a lot of noses out of joint as well, but I also won a lot of backing on focus on usability. I like to think I planted the seeds for almost a form of culture change about organization, because usability is getting more and more prioritized as a result of those user testing videos. So those videos can be very powerful, politically, if you need to get people on board.

All right. What question are we up to? Where are we?

LUKE: We seem to be making slow progress. Maybe pick and choose a few things out of here? The internships, as we’ve mentioned, there are lots of opportunities around if you’re networking with people. Internships … You need to be brave about finding someone who you would like to do some work with or an internship with and then reaching out and saying: “Look, I’m really passionate about stuff. Is it possible for me to come in and meet you guys and see how you work, or co-work, or come and help you do some things.” Creating your own opportunities like that has certainly been something that I’ve found helpful too.

MATT: I should mention that we had a gentleman in Melbourne, a young guy approach us – I’m not sure if Ben is on the line or not – but Ben was really keen to find a mentor and asked me if I would mentor him. And I agreed. So we’ve actually been getting Ben involved in some of the not-for-profit work that we’ve been doing here in Melbourne. And it’s been great to have him help us out because we have paying clients that are competing with our time, so having an extra helper has been terrific. But for him, it’s been some experiences that he wouldn’t have otherwise had. But it works both ways.

LUKE: Yeah, get in touch with the Interaction Design Association – IxDA – or any other groups around. Or just reach out to whoever you’ve got on your horizon.

MATT: “How can I become a better designer without a mentor?” I would really recommend getting a mentor. I think that this is a strange question because the value of having someone who you can confide in, who can give you some guidance and perspective, can’t be understated. So while I empathise with the fact that it can be hard to find the right person to play that role in your life, I certainly believe that it’s worth pursuing.

“Visual design background. What should I be focusing on to become a UX designer?” Firstly, I’ll suggest that if you come from a visual design background I think you do have an advantage. While I do believe that having a visual background is not necessary to be a successful UXer, because tasks like conducting user interviews and doing user testing don’t require you to have those visual skills, but in terms of being able to communicate visually, I think it’s a real advantage.

What should you be focusing on? The behaviour stuff. The process. Getting that user feedback loop and divorcing ownership from the design. So whatever design process you used previously, I’m sure there’s value in it. But becoming more transparent and involving the team and involving users is really what you should be focusing on next.

And perhaps the final question for the career, we’ll jump to the last one, which asks how to source and hire talented UX designers. Luke, if you had to hire a UX designer, what would you do?

LUKE: Well, I’d be attending some of the UX events, I guess; getting to know people personally or being able to hear them pitch their work. That kind of thing. So back into the personal networking kind of things. I might be looking up projects that I’ve heard about and looking at who’s been behind that work. That’s probably where I’d start. I’d put the word out, ask people … Yeah, maybe that’s something we need to look at at UX Mastery, connecting people with those opportunities.

MATT: Yeah. You guys may be familiar with meetup.com, but I’m sure that if you’re in a small or medium-sized city, there is going to be a UX meet-up of some description near you. And it’s probably on meetup.com. There’s a great community here in Melbourne called UX Melbourne, which has a Google Group and have regular meet-ups where they show videos of UX-related presentations, where they have a book club and everyone reads the same book and then we chat about it and it’s a great community and it’s a great way to meet people. And it’s possibly a great way to hire people.

So yes, those connections are valuable. I guess trawling LinkedIn is probably what recruiters spend a bunch of time doing. And I’m sure there’s value in looking at people’s online profiles, but certainly a trusted referral, someone that you’ve met or someone that you trust has recommended is going to get you a long way there. All right – the training questions.

The first question here says: “What are the best self-guided learning resources/books/references or tutorials?”

LUKE: It’s a good question. It’s something we get asked a lot. So much in fact that we’ve got some great stuff on the website. There are books and things. If you come to the resources section there are some good books; in particular an introduction to UX stuff.

MATT: Yeah, and it is our grand vision to filter this list a bit more because we’re conscious that the list of tools, the list of books, the list of courses is just a big brain-dump. So very slowly we are working our way through filtering that list. So we’ve reviewed at least three of the courses, I think, so far. And we hope to review some of the books as well and give you guys a bit more expert recommendations of what we think is good rather than just the comprehensive, “Here’s everything! Blah blah!”

LUKE: And to be able to unpack that stuff. Particularly if you guys have questions about: “I’m in this particular situation, where should I start?” then certainly let us know and we can point you in the right direction. Or we might end up writing a blog post about it.

MATT: That’s right. If there’s not something on that resources section of the site that answers your question then please email us so that we can add it. Definitely.

LUKE: The two books that I’d particularly pull out of that list would be this one by Cennydd: Undercover User Experience Design. I’ve found this very useful for being able to explain key concepts. And the other one is a project guide to UX design, which is very practical, it walks you through, it’s got bits and pieces that you can apply fairly easily and immediately to what you’re working on. They are two very practical books. Probably Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience is a foundational one but it’s a bit more abstract and theoretical, I guess. It certainly explains user experience and the origins well, but it’s not necessarily as practical as these other ones.

MATT: It can be good for getting someone who has no idea about user experience at all, on board with the concept.

LUKE: Totally, yeah.

MATT: Cool. Next question?

LUKE: So. courses. There is a courses section of the website where we’ve listed all the online courses that we’ve found here and put David’s at the top, because we think that’s the best one. There are quite a few other ones. All these other ones down here … Some are paid, some are free. We haven’t included the university courses yet because we’re sticking to online at the moment. Have a dig around in there, find something that might be useful for you.

MATT: Yeah, and if you take one of those courses and love it, write to us and let us know. We’d love to know how you found it.

LUKE: So this is the next question. Learning UX as a soloist is a very interesting question that I talked to Matt about last night, and it conjures up pictures of user experience designers as musicians – we had that article a while ago that referred to the idea of conducting an orchestra to produce a symphony as sounds as a UX designer; working with designers and developers in a team. So it’s an interesting concept also because user experience is a very collaborative role.

Working as a soloist doesn’t quite fit with that picture but I guess talking about UX as a team of one is probably what was behind the question. I think you can never really work by yourself. You certainly need to be relying on users and if you’re doing design and development as well then, sure, you can roll up some things into one. But it’s an interesting question – I’ll do a bit more thinking about that. What do you think Matt?

MATT: I did publish an article on UX Mastery last year about being a remote UX designer, because sometimes the reality is that you’re not onsite with the client – they might be in another city or in another country, even. So there are certainly some techniques and things that you can do to get a user centred process happening for a project even if you’re working remotely. So I’d recommend you go and check out that article and read about some of those techniques.

But I agree with Luke in terms of the metaphor being a bit broken because the best design projects happen through collaboration, I believe, and technology is good but it’s never the same as being in person with your team, with the stakeholders, with the users. So I would certainly say, don’t aspire to be a soloist, aspire to be a collaborator and someone who is at the core of the organization and develop those relationships and develop those connections with people inside and outside your team, because that’s how you’re going to be effective. I hope that answers the question.

LUKE: Yeah, if we’re not giving you the right feedback there, feel free to chat in the comments and let us know if we need to cover a bit more stuff. We’ll push on though. There’s a question here: “Should I pursue a formal education in UX?” That’s also another one I think that pops up quite often. There hasn’t been a lot of tertiary education courses offered in UX specifically, but it does mean the field of user experience is related to human-computer interaction, cognitive psychology and a whole bunch of other stuff; deeper foundations like that.

And those courses have been around for a while and the people that … I know plenty of people that have studied those and moved into user experience design as well. So at the moment, I think it would be an advantage to get a tertiary qualification, but it’s certainly not required. I think experience is still fairly the sought-after factors; being able to prove the work that you’ve done in the past. Perhaps in five or ten years as the user experience design role changes, maybe there will be more of us. I think the differentiator might be the form of education that you might have picked up from courses.

There are a few places you can get this – whether it be … Some of the larger universities have interaction courses. Here in Australia open universities have some good courses too. So I wouldn’t say it was required but it certainly might be something to consider, if you’ve got the time and inclination.

MATT: I’m going to go ahead and disagree with Luke on this one. I’m having a hard time being convinced that a formal education in UX is going to be worthwhile. The value I see from getting some experience and taking a course like David’s and getting out there and doing it, using user testing as a starter point to then build more experience in different areas is such a powerful way to make progress and to progress your career. I think that a formal education in UX, investing three years in learning about how to do this stuff, or just getting three year’s experience in actually doing it – for me I’ll take the latter every time.

LUKE: That is a good point. I’ll stick to my original one but yeah, Matt’s got a point that it’s an industry that’s changing often and being able to learn on the run is going to put you ahead of people who are learning … If a course was designed a couple of years ago you’re still going to be behind a bit.

MATT: Cool. Okay, let’s get onto the selling UX questions. “What’s the cheapest way you can make potential customers understand the need for UX testing?” Logic doesn’t work sometimes. Well, I did mention earlier the power of a good user testing video, and while I would never suggest presenting selective findings, it’s important to be independent and tell the true story. Certainly choosing snippets from your user testing video to show people can be a very powerful way to get them on board with the idea.

So if you’ve got someone who doesn’t believe that the page that you’re redesigning needs work, that they think is fine, and you show them a video of someone struggling to work out where the button is, because they just can’t see it, then they’re going to be pretty convinced by a real customer having a real problem. Another good thing that I like to do is actually involve stakeholders as user testing participants: getting them to be the user tester, giving them some tasks, asking them to complete the tasks. And it forces them to take their owner hat off and be a user and realise the value of this process and realise that there are probably usability issues that need fixing.

So there are two tips. Have you got any other tips to add?

LUKE: Just looking at the selling UX section here, there are a few similarities in the questions. This idea of having to convince people of UX testing is certainly one that I’ve come up against myself time and time again. So I understand where the person who is asking the question is coming from, but what I would suggest is, don’t let it be an optional extra, don’t necessarily even negotiate it. I think the user feedback cycle that Matt was mentioning before is essential to the type of work we do.

So don’t let talking to the users be your first or second or even third thing that gets taken off the table when time and budget it tight. It’s easier to say and harder to do, I know, but similarly, if you did need to pitch it a bit more, I think you need to show some quick examples, as Matt said, about how previous projects have been improved by taking on board feedback from user testing. Or borrow from other people – so if there have been some other websites you know of that have benefited from it, and you can show some before and after, or a bit of process …

So I suppose that’s still the logic; that the person asking the question said didn’t work, but openly I’d say just do it. If you believe in it, you’re probably already going to know that you can do a better job with it than without it. Testing it doesn’t have to be with 50 paid participants, it can be a bit on the run, maybe you can include some customers of the client and pay them in kind with the client’s products, or even use your own contacts or something like that.

There is a good article that we wrote on the website last year, talking about low-budget UX. That would probably give you a few tips. I think you should just include it and if you don’t have the budget then you just need to be able to squeeze it in there.

MATT: I’m guessing, Luke, that you’re referring to Cameron Roger’s article on No Time, No Excuses?

LUKE: There is that one, No Time, No excuses and then there’s also the one I wrote in August, A Time-Poor, Small-Budget Approach to UX.

MATT: Yeah. Cameron’s was a little bit controversial. He was basically advocating “take a sickie and do it on your own even though you’ve been told not to”. Now, it depends on how much you value your job and what the organizational culture is and whether you’re in a position to take matters into your own hands or not like that. But certainly I agree with the sentiment that if your organization needs to be enlightened, you might need to be a bit unconventional to enlighten them. If you’ve got an afternoon where you can squeeze in some user testing, even though you’ve not told anyone about it, and then demonstrate the value of it; I think people are going to have a hard time telling you off for it.

LUKE: If you don’t ask permission they’re not going to say no either.

MATT: [laughter] And then there’s another question in that group which you can flip back, Luke. No, no, that’s right. I was going to mention case studies. There is a very famous case study that gets used, I’m sure, to make the case for user experience design, and that’s Jared Spool’s $300 Dollar Button.

And we’ll link to that case study in the webinar notes at the end of this, but basically there’s a case study for an organization where they changed the button on the page and it resulted in increased conversions that meant an extra $300 million revenue for that organization for that year, and that’s … If we could find more case studies like that then we’d have an easier time championing user-centred design. So if anyone knows of any case studies where the design process made that big an impact then we want to hear about it right now.

LUKE: Definitely. We’d love to hear that stuff.

MATT: Cool, all righty. Process and techniques. “Do you practice Lean UX and how do you apply it at work?” Do you want to explain to the attendee list what Lean UX is, Luke?

LUKE: Sure. So Lean UX is something that’s come out of … It’s a reaction to a whole bunch of things that have been happening over the last couple of decades in development. We often go through these different phases where there’s a bit of a take of things where this is a better way of doing things, or whatever, and a little bit of Lean UX has been wandering around lately, but the distinct advantages are, as I mentioned before, that idea of not confusing user experience design with the deliverables or the actual artefacts – it’s more about the process.

I think Lean UX certainly takes that and runs with it by saying, to be able to run a lean, efficient project, you can cut back on the documentation and actually do the learning and the explaining with your team as you go along – just focus on the core bits and pieces and work quickly. And it’s a bit of a design application of the more development-oriented, agile environment. In a nutshell, that’s kind of what it is. I’ve probably explained it really badly, but that’s essentially what it is.

MATT: Yeah, and I think, well … Sorry, go.

LUKE: Sorry, I was going to say Matt did an interview with Jeff Gothelf a couple of weeks ago, and Jeff’s a leading voice on Lean UX and that sort of industry, so definitely check out that article as well.

MATT: Yeah, and Jeff wrote an article for us recently too called Beyond the Basics UX Skills For an Agile World where he talks about some of the premises of Lean UX and how that relates to working in an agile environment. Agile development processes traditionally aren’t a good fit for user-centred design and Jeff believes that if we become design facilitators and we buy a bunch of principles of transparency and letting go of owning the design and applying these lean [start-up? 00:56:45], validate your idea, validate your learning process, then it is a good fit.

And I’m in wholehearted agreement because the more transparent we are about what we do, it takes away the mystique of design being this black magic that we do behind closed walls and then present, “voila!” this masterpiece at the end of it. It needs to be a team process and in order to work with developers we need to involve developers. And you’d be surprised at how many good ideas people have if you just ask them.

If they feel that they’ve been involved then they become a champion for the design and you’ll have less of a hard time getting by and getting take-up within the organization. If you go and do something on your own and present it then you’re likely to hit a bunch of hurdles before everybody’s on board with it; regardless of how good it is. Just because people don’t like change and everyone has an opinion about design and so you need to involve them.

“How can UX principles be used to reduce cognitive complexity in educational products?” That’s a tricky question.

LUKE: I’d love to learn more about that too. [laughs]

MATT: Yeah, well, I guess simplicity is a good goal to aim for when you’re designing something. So cognitive complexity is often the result of something being complex. So simplicity is hard, but really, following a user-centred design process where you test stuff, where you have that user feedback loop and you iterate and you prototype and eventually you’re going to get there. But if you just think you can do it on your own, you’re probably not. You need to involve others: stakeholders, team members.

LUKE: Yeah. And that’s a good point about the cognitive load. I think using psychological principles to improve an interface, especially in order to clearly communicate and educate. Education in particular I think is really interesting for that because you can do a lot of stimulating by getting active involvement, rather than passive consumption.

But certainly UX should be able to help you identify where the unnecessary stuff is, to simplify it, what the useful stuff is to keep. And like Matt says, observing users, using a system and testing proposed designs. All those help explicitly in being able to find what that is; reduce that unnecessary cognitive complexity.

MATT: All right. The next question says: “How do you balance SEO, CRO and UX?” So search engine optimisation, conversion rate optimisation and user experience. And this is actually a great question because as UX designers, we’re really focused on, is the product usable, is it useful, is it the right product? And conversion rate optimisation is really at the end of that pipeline. So we’re all about making sure that things work well and do the right job for the right people.

But then, what colour should the button be at the end of it? I think that you need to test that stuff at the end. So how do we balance it? Well, what we do is we get 90% of the way there using user-centred design techniques and then if you’re a large organization and a 5% or a 6% conversion rate makes a big difference to your profit, then you test that stuff at the end to fine-tune it.

SEO – it’s funny, if you think about the user experience of someone finding information, really, search engines are a part of that touch point. Someone types in a query in Google and then they end up on your website and then they find their answer, SEO is part of that experience. So I don’t think they’re at odds. I think that if you make sure that your website ranks well for the key words that you want it to rank for, but you do it in a way that is going to help the customer answer their question, then you’re ticking all the boxes. And I don’t think they necessarily need to be either/or. We’ve only got a couple more minutes left.

LUKE: I was just going to say quickly on that – I’m a little bit wary of the association with UX and over-optimising or that sort of really tight end. I know user experience design is certainly about optimizing and streamlining a process, particularly for a user. What I always come back to is the fact that I’m within that business team; the business team obviously wanting to make money for the business and that’s part of that whole value of equation of business exists to provide value to the customer.

But I think my role as a user experience designer is very much to advocate for that user. People ask me, when I’m talking about user research, they often confuse that with market research. I think they’re very different things. Market research might be taken a bit more as finding some opportunities to exploit within the market or to understand the customer base, whereas I think user research is a lot more personal and it’s a lot more about working with the user in order to help them achieve their goals and ultimately for that to be of value for the customer and the business.

MATT: Very good. We have time for a couple more questions so I’m just going to jump down. There are a couple of questions at the end about: “Can you share some of your challenges or frustrations?” so the question is: “What was your most frustrating project?” – we won’t name any clients. “Why was is frustrating and what was the outcome and how did you resolve the issue?” I do have a project that comes to mind that was frustrating, and that was many years ago, before I was enlightened to the value of user-centred design. I was working as a designer and I would go away and be creative, come up with a few different versions of the design and come back and present it and then we’d pick one and we’d launch it.

And there were some real tensions – not really to do with me but to do with other stakeholders, where the company owner and the CEO, who was a bit territorial because each of them thought that they had the best opinion on what the design would be. And I could just see that it was nothing to do with me but the fact that this process wasn’t speaking to everyone’s need to be involved. It created some real tension and some real nasty stand-offs in the office.

In hindsight, if I’d explained to everyone there that, hey, this is a process we’re going to follow, if I’d done some collaborative sketching workshops where everybody got a change to contribute and if I made it very clear and transparent what the process was that I was going to be following and how they’d be involved, everyone would be so much happier and they would be much less argy-bargy and arguing and passion about, “But I haven’t been involved in…”, “But I know best…”.

So the outcome was that we launched the front page and all of the users hated it because they weren’t involved either. And I don’t think the issue was resolved, I think there are still underlying tensions with that product, where people resent having not been included. And people don’t like change. Whether that’s stakeholders, users or anyone.

So I learnt from that. I didn’t know at the time what the solution was but it was my mentor who really enlightened me about user-centred design many years ago. And I haven’t had that same problem since because I’ve deliberately followed a process that speaks to those challenges. Did you have a project you wanted to talk about, Luke?

LUKE: Just generally too – I think that a lot of the frustrations come particularly out of the need to define what UX is a little bit, and obviously people are still learning what that is a bit too. But it means … I had some similar experiences too. One particular client had hired me perhaps hearing that UX is a bit of a … Could help them solve some of their problems. But once I’d been working there for a little while it turned out that their biggest problems were more about the workplace culture, rather than particular projects they were working on.

So it was always a bit of an uphill battle to advocate for user above all the rest of that noise of the business that was intent on doing it’s own thing. So I had to get a lot better at convincing people about the importance of things or having a bit of a stronger voice. But I still felt that the role was a bit token. So that was one of the most frustrating things for me.

Stepping back from that a little, I think looking at my early forays into user-centred design, the two things that I internally felt frustrated about were the documents, and probably spending a little bit too much energy in making the documents look good, as a details-person with a design background, I fell really easily into spending a lot of time on the documents and making them communicate well, rather than involving people in my activities and flying more by the seat of my pants.

And the other thing was probably trying to understand when to test and when not to. Initially I used to test all my early design concepts as well. I didn’t realise that I was focusing on interactions that didn’t even exist. I was just going through the motions, doing testing because everyone was telling me to do it. But I didn’t actually make the connection that wasn’t the best use of my time and that a lot of that extra data to process didn’t necessarily have much benefit.

And I needed to focus on only testing because we’ve got a particular question that we need an answer to. I think that applies to user research as well. They were probably the two biggest things that, once I had a bit more of an understanding of, a lot of things got a bit easier.

MATT: Very good. Well, we’ve come to the end of the webinar. Unfortunately we don’t have time to answer any more questions but we’re really appreciative of everyone who’s dialled in and we apologise to those of you whose questions we didn’t get to. We would like to do this again. This is actually really valuable for us and hopefully it’s been …

LUKE: It’s been great being able to talk to you guys and hear you asking questions back in the chat. I really appreciate that.

MATT: Totally. Sometimes the newsletter and the website can feel very one-way and we much prefer it to be a conversation. So keep emailing your questions, keep the conversation going. If you’ve got any specific feedback on this webinar, we’d love to hear from you.

LUKE: We’d certainly love to hear from you.

MATT: Yeah, so just email feedback@uxmastery.com and let us know if you loved it, if you hated it, if you’re indifferent, if you wish that we’d answered your question and we didn’t – we can do our best to try and do that offline or perhaps in a future webinar. I did mention that we’ve got an eBook in the works and we’re going to be working very hard to get that out of the door soon. You’ll certainly be haring from us about that hopefully pretty soon.

I won’t tell you a timeframe because clients get in the way and this stuff is hard to do in our spare time. But we do our best. So thank you everyone for attending, especially those of you in time zones where it wasn’t easy. We do appreciate your time and for listening to us. And hopefully we’ll see you on a future UX Mastery webinar.

LUKE: Very good. Take care everyone.

MATT: See you guys.

LUKE: Bye bye.

Written by
Luke Chambers
Join the discussion

  • Great podcast :) I’ve worked through a design review, including stakeholders and user feedback, involving developers etc and designing the new UI.

    My question is, there are so many tools to potentially utilize, e.g. user personas etc. How do you know when to use those tools, and do most UX designers get a set of tools/techniques that they find valuable to most projects and just stick to those?

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