All posts by Jennifer Blatz

Research results don’t always have to be a work of art

Q&D is a term I would hear told to reporters from my days working at daily newspaper. It stands for Quick and Dirty. And it’s a type of story that reporters are requested to write quite often. Just turn in a quick story to help fill the pages of the newspaper. It doesn’t have to be in depth; it doesn’t have have to be a Pulitzer-prize winning piece; it just has to be done.

I think we have all heard the request to turn something in ASAP. It’s not only the nature of the business world, but it certainly is the nature of the the UX world.

“We need to just get the results to the group so we can move forward.”

And it’s requests like this that cause UX professionals to produce their own Q&D.

Recently I was researching a very manual process. This process was creating reports for customers. There were many steps involved in this process. The funny (or sad, actually) thing is that no one really knew how many steps were involved in this process. Not even the person creating the reports. That is, until I conducted my research and mapped out the process in detail. Wow it is a tedious task!

So after several side-by-side observation  sessions and interviews, I had a strong idea of what the report-building process consisted of. I needed to share these findings with my development team – and fast! Enter the not-so-pretty results. Wah wah.

Thus, we come to the point of this story: Results don’t always have to be a work of art. There are situations when you don’t don’t have time to create a beautiful journey map. You can’t create a high-fidelity deliverable, spun from a program like InDesign, because you need to share your results fast. So what do you do? Deliver the deliverable that gets the job done.

So what is a gal to do? Create the journey using a spreadsheet like Excel and get that to the team as soon as possible.

There are a few advantages to a Q&D deliverable:

  • Easy to put together.
  • Can be done rather quickly.
  • Can share with members of the team in a format they can easily read.
  • Others can even make edits to the spreadsheet if needed.
  • It’s a living document, and if there are changes that need to be made, they don’t have to be made through you.
  • Getting this deliverable off your plate frees up your time to move on to the next project.

Sure this spreadsheet is not going to be a design portfolio piece. But it does the job. This journey map communicates the process, resources and tools used, as well as time on task. This is all important information. And now it is in the team’s hands as an action item. They are not waiting for me to produce a “pretty” piece of design. In the end, my research is moving the project forward more quickly and accurately. Sometimes you just have to do what you’ve gotta do to get a job done.

Jen’s job description on LinkedIn for Backspace

As you move through your career, one step that most people have to do is update their LinkedIn profile. I had a basic update up to this point. I just stated the new company, title and start month. But today I have now included a more in-depth description of my duties. Please take a look and let me know what you think — or if you see any errors. ha ha.

Jennifer Blatz UX Designer LinkedIn profile Rackspace UX Lead

Please read my entire Linkedin profile to see my career history beyond my Rackspace job description.

As a Lead UX Designer, I interact with a cross-functional team of Product managers, Researchers and several UX designers. I oversee the experience design and functionality of User and Account Management, which crosses over into several aspects of Rackspace’s portal.

▫️ Lead a team of designers, guiding them through and implementing the UX Process and helping them make strong design decisions.
▫️ Propose UX strategies and develop a plan to execute steps in that strategy for a major focus area of the company’s portal used by thousands of customers.
▫️ With my extensive UX research experience, I actively propose and engage in user research efforts.
▫️ Mentor junior UX designers and assist them through their career development.
▫️ Act as the team’s scrum coach through the agile process of software development and design.
▫️ Define and establish the UX Process that is implemented by all UX Designers, Researchers and InfoDev writers. This high-profile UX Process was created in collaboration with other Researchers and UX Designers based on research, workshops and iterative feedback.
▫️ Design standard UX deliverables like user flows, user stories, sketches, wireframes and mockups using tools like Mural.ly, Sketch and Invision.
▫️ Regularly collaborate with and provide design feedback to other UX designers.
▫️ Lead workshops and meetings regularly to keep remote team members aligned, engaged and designing to their full potential.

2018 New Year’s Goals

Jen Blatz UX designer 2018 goals

First thing I did to think about 2018, is to review the goals I set for myself in 2017. Man, I did knock a few of those off of the list, but I was not nearly as successful as I should have been.

Here are my lame excuses for not accomplishing last year’s goals:

  • I changed jobs 3 times in one year. I had a huge learning curve to  every new job, and I am still trying to understand the new industries I was working in.
  • I was a bit stressed having landed in positions that were empty promises and not career-growth opportunities. Thus, the change in positions so many times.
  • With all of the new jobs, I was devoting any extra free time I had to getting up to speed, and not focusing on networking or getting involved in the local UX community.

OK, OK enough with the pity party. Now let’s focus on what I really want to accomplish in 2018.

Read
  • “Design of Everyday Things” (started in 2017, need to finish)
  • “Checklist Manifesto” (charted for 2017, pushing to this year)
  • “Sprint”
Write blog posts
  • In 2017, I was shooting to post 25 original blog posts.
  • I want to shoot for 12, long-format blog posts with valuable content.
  • Plus I would like to continue my series of “UX Tidbits” and “UX Quotes” sprinkled throughout he year. I enjoy researching, gathering and creating these fun short snippets of info. I will shoot for 18 “UX Tidbits in 2018
Social Media

I have felt so lucky to have the followers on twitter that I have accumulated this far. I would like to continue to grow my Twitter following.

Networking
  • Continue to participate in local Meetups to expand my network and to get to know others in the UX community and other related fields.
  • Have the opportunity to participate in one panel at a Meetup, meeting or class as a person who has some sort of UX knowledge to bring to the table.
  • Give a presentation to one Meetup group. Group and topic to be determined.
  • Attend Creative Mornings events to meet more designers and artists in the local community.
Professional Development
  • Continue to learn Sketch well enough to mock up several designs to expand portfolio and skill set.
  • Understand the industry I work for, cloud computing, better.
  • Learn about managing teams. It might be something I am interested in, so I would like to learn more.
  • Create UX assets and deliverables to sharpen my skills and enhance my portfolio.
  • Wrap up the “UX Process” project I have been working on at work and develop a strong case study on the process of creating it. Continue to visit the project through the year to see how it is going and iterate as needed.
  • Determine what topic I need to know more about when it comes to UX. Perhaps Customer Experience or Service Design? See how these tracks can be explored further in my current work space.
  • Revisit these goals in the mid year to not only track my progress, but to add to it. I feel like I need more concrete goals than just listed here. Stronger possibilities tbd.
Personal development
  • Have better work/life balance. Right now I am spending any extra time I have in the evenings working on “Could Computing” or “Leading the UX Team” related tasks and not having any rest or personal development time.
  • 2017 was not a great year for travel for me. This is especially true for international travel. I would like to explore the world a bit more, even if it is in my home state.
  • Read more outside of UX. I would like to learn more about another discipline. Be that fine art, history or social sciences. I would like to increase my knowledge about a field that could be complementary to UX, but is not strictly UX.

New phone, new Woes

Jennifer Blatz UX design iPhoneX new technology

I finally relented and for the iPhone X. Happy new year to me, right?  Despite being a UX designer, I am not a gadget geek. I am not an early adopter. In fact, I am just the opposite: I will resist updating and change for as long as possible.

I can’t really explain why I am not super eager to adopt the newest technology right off the bat. I guess it is a combination of fear and anxiety. I don’t want to lose any data, like photos. I don’t want any down time. I don’t want any learning curve. Geez, this is really starting to sound like it is all about me, ha!

I came across an article or two that talked about how the new iPhone was a gesture nightmare. Oh brother, that certainly was not a glowing endorsement for me. I was already unhappy with the iPhone 7 which took away the headphone jack. I guess my silent protest of mot buying the “headphones” version would be in vain because once Apple takes something away, they never give it back. We are forced to adopt. That’s the price you pay with the advancement in technology.

So I got the new phone and of course the first major difference is how do I get in to the thing?? There is no home button. I instantly touched the screen and swiped up. That seemed like the logical thing to do. Well that did nothing. Nope. Then I just tapped on the screen. OK! Progress, that seems to be the magic touch to open the phone. I can do this.

So I decided to go a little deeper in the water to try a few other things: open an app, take a screen shot, close an app, display the percentage of my batter power. These are items I do multiple tomes a day, so these are the most common actions I will be performing.

Opening an app, no problem. Same old, same old.

Closing an app, now that is a different story. That required a good search on my part. Now instead of just swiping up through the apps that are mounted, I now I have to hard press and get the “Do not Enter” street sign to close each window. This seems like additional work. Not to mention a tiny touch target to close an entire window. I am not a fan. Easily discoverable? No. Doable? I guess so.

I am constantly checking the battery power of my phone. OK, maybe I am a little bit OCD about it. (My husband would certainly say so.) I can’t help it, I like to know the exact quantity I am dealing with. So now with the new iPhone X, I cannot instantly see the remaining battery power on my phone. Huge deal killer for me. I am not happy about this. Again, I resorted to Google to see how to turn this on. There are instructions on how to activate this in Settings. Alas, this option is not available. Noooooo! Now I have to do some crazy swipe from an angle at one corner to bring up the Control Center (or whatever the hell is it called) and then do another corner swipe to see battery power. No I have to 2 (TWO!!!!) swipes to get information that was available on the opening of the phone. This is a big problem for me. (Though my husband is probably over there in the corner laughing at me….)

Finally, I wanted to know how to take a screen grab of the phone. The home button was half of the equation on completing this task. So now what? Again, I had to do a Google search to figure out how to accomplish this task. Are you starting to see a pattern here? Yeah me too.

So much for Apple being intuitive. So much for iPhones being so simple to use that I can just pick it up and figure things out by playing around with it a bit. I am not to type of person to just try anything because my fear of “not mucking it up” is more powerful than my desire to try new things. Nope, when it comes to technology, I am a “play it safe” kind of gal.

One really important lesson that has surfaced in my experience is the importance of keeping the user in mind when I am designing something new. All too often, I hear people say, “They will be able to figure it out,” or “It’s pretty intuitive, they will not be bothered by this change.

Ahhh well, I have a refreshed level of empathy for the user. I will design for the type of user who just wants to get things done and does not want to worry about some huge learning curve. I want to make sure that my designs, or change in design will not harm the experience, but will help the experience.

Here’s to doing good in design in 2018!Jennifer Blatz UX designer cheers to good user experience design in 2018

Educating about UX: Necessary Evil as the UX Team of One

Defining good UX Jennifer Blatz UX design presentation
Not all companies are created equal. Neither is their UX maturity. Some companies really appreciate the value of User Experience Research and Design. Other companies hear the term “UX” hear that everybody is getting it. So they feel like they need it too. It’s the later companies that have the low UX maturity.

I, unfortunately, was recently working with a company with low UX maturity. I had supervisors who were looking at me saying,

  • “What do you do again? Why are you here?”
  • “I don’t really understand what UX is.”
  • “What does UX stand for? Oh User Experience….So what does that mean?”
  • “So you are a Front-End Developer?”
  • “I think the most important deliverable you can provide is working code.”

Ahhhh, you can imagine how these questions and comments really hit me hard. Granted, I am in a business where I am surrounded by engineers. So I expect some of this mindset. But I don’t expect this sort of mindset from my superiors. Even the one who said, “Oh yeah, I have ‘Done UX’ in the past. Hmmmmmm.

In these scenarios, it is our responsibility as UX professionals to educate out supervisors and peers about what UX is, how is is so valuable for business, but most importantly, how UX folks can save time and money for developers.

Leah Buley wrote a fantastic book called “The UX Team of One.” I have used her book as my bible, trying to introduce the value of User Experience Design and research in to my organization. One way I did this, was jumpstart their education with a presentation. I gathers some of my key stakeholders and supervisors in a room, and gave them a quick and brief overview of What is UX?  in a presentation.

Some of the high-level points of my “What is UX?” presentation include:

  • What UX research provides
  • The definition of UX
  • That UX is not just resigning things or making it pretty
  • The “Double Diamond” and how that process feeds developer’s process
  • How UX research can reduce developer’s rework time
  • The financial value of UX research and design
  • Illustration the UX process, and the steps involved
  • Emphasizing that we are not the user, and we need a user advocate amongst the group of engineers

Finally, I wrapped up my presentation with that famous Steve Job’s quote:

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like.
Design is how it works.

I would love it you would look at my entire What is UX? presentation and provide your feedback. Did I leave anything out? Did I focus too much on one aspect? Please share your thoughts so that I can make it better. I never know if I will have to give a presentation like this the next time.

Summary of 2017, from UX Researcher back to UX Designer

Jennifer Blatz UX Designer

I’ll do a quick “Christmas Card” summary of how my 2017 year went.

  • Still living in Texas and really enjoy it overall compared to Los Angeles. Sure I miss the food, the scenery, my friends and the road trips to wine country. But living is Texas is a much easier way of life.
  • I left my contract position with a major financial institution as a UX Researcher in April. It was a tough decision, since I liked with job and my co-workers. But the (previous) manager made working there unbearable and I needed to find a healthy environment for myself personally and professionally.
  • I moved on to a security company, which sounded like a golden opportunity. But as the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And in this case it was. I was promised opportunities that did not come to fruition. The company (and some superiors) were not ready for a UX Designer and wanted me to perform duties that were not in my job description (like front-end development). Though the work was challenging, and my co-workers were great and eager to have a new product designed, my superiors did not see the value of UX and properly designing a product. I could tell it was time to move on, so I did. I was there for five months.
  • Now I am working from home, and adjusting to remote life has been a challenge. I work for a major managed cloud company as a UX designer. Though we have dedicated UX researchers on our staff, I can see how my professional experience in that field is helping me immensely in my new role. First thing about working remotely is that I work way more hours than your standard 9-5 job. I think that this has a lot to do with my newness on the job and often feeling lost. I am devoting a lot of extra time to learn about my industry and products we work on. But I am hopeful in the new year that things will settle down for me and I will work more appropriate hours.
  • My vacations were on the small side this year with all of the job changes. Of course we took the usual trips to Indiana and Vegas.  We even managed to go to New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Paso Robles and New Orleans. No international trip this year so I am hoping that can come about in 2018.
  • Overall, I was a happy year and I am pleased with my professional accomplishments. I’ll be coming out with a new 2018 goals write up soon. Until then, keep on, keeping’ on.

Reflecting on 2107: Good, Bad and Ugly

Jennifer Blatz UX Designer and Researcher

Seems like everyone has a “Year in Review,” or “2017 Wrap Up.” I am going to join the cliché train and talk about my trials and tribulations in 2017.

The Good

  • I still have my health. ha ha. Actually things were not that bad.
  • I have made several new friends in the new career paths and journeys I have joined.
  • I actually accomplished some of my 2017 Goals this year. Maybe not everything, but it’s a start.
  • I learned Sketch and feel pretty confident with it. But I want to practice it more and get stronger at using the program.
  • Continue to grow online presence in Twitter. Do you want to follow me too? I would be honored.
  • I did grow my UX network in Dallas. I’ve done a pretty good job, but I want to be more embedded in the UX community here.

The Bad

  • Imposter syndrome will never leave me. No matter where I work, how much I learn, how successful or accomplished I might seem to be. I always feel like I am looking over my shoulder trying to fake everyone out.
  • This could be good, but this is also bad. I started, but did not finish, “Design of Everyday Things.” So that has to be bumped to the 2018 to-do list.
  • My new job has taken up a lot of my personal time where I should be devoting that time to advancing my career and learning more about UX, Service Design and Customer Experience.

The Ugly

  • Working for a company who did not understand UX
  • Having a narcissistic boss who thought it was appropriate to try to sabotage your career rather than helping me succeed.
  • Changing 3 jobs in a year. Ouch! That can look really bad professionally, and I am stung by that potential perception. But the job changes were all for very good reasons, and I hope that things will settle down in 2018.

UX Tidbit: Dieter Rams and Good Design

Dieter Rams is known for his approach and belief in "less but better" design. Jennifer Blatz UX Design
Dieter Rams is known for his approach and belief in “less but better” design.

This is an oldie but a goodie. Have to share this again.

According to Dieter Rams, good design:

  1. Is innovative
  2. Makes a product useful
  3. Is aesthetic
  4. Makes a product understandable
  5. Is unobtrusive
  6. Is honest
  7. Is long-lasting
  8. Is thorough down to the last detail
  9. Is environmentally friendly
  10. Involves as little design as possible

UX Tidbit: Understand your user’s needs

user experience research cartoon Jennifer Blatz UX design

There are several ways that you can do a better job of understanding your user’s needs. Understanding what your user really wants starts with research. There are a variety of quick and easy research methods every UX designer can use to understand their users better.

  • Get users to complete a diary to give you insight in to their world.
  • Interview users to better understand the problem you are trying to solve. Make sure you are solving a real user problem.
  • Find the “job” people hire your “product” to do.
  • Ask for a story about the user’s context.
  • Have the user create a photographic “Day in the Life” of their work area to understand their environment more.
  • Learn “trigger” words. Trigger words are simply words used by the user. It might be useful to include some of those trigger words in your product or website. Speak the user’s language.

UX Tidbits: Affordance

Affordance illustration Jennifer Blatz UX design

An affordance is a perceived signal or clue that an object that an object may use to perform a particular action. We applications and sites use affordance to push users to make an action. It is very important to understand the types of affordances a UX designer can use.

Explicit affordance is signaled by language or an object’s physical appearance.

Pattern affordance are design patterns objects like logos, navigation ages, links and the magnifying glass to show search. Users are used to these items being symbolic and expect them to do certain functions.

Jennifer Blatz UX design
How do you think you should open these doors? Do you push or pull to open?

Have you ever seen a door like this? Have you ever pushed when you should have pulled? Or pulled when you should have pushed? Sure we have all been there. And we all hate that feeling of making a mistake and feeling embarrassed in public.

Keep this type of scenario in mind when you are designing something. Never assume that the user will know what to do with your design or control. And more importantly, NEVER make the user feel stupid.

UX Buzzwords: the same meaning?

Jennifer Blatz UX designer buzzword confusion

I attended a talk at BigD (the User experience design conference in Dallas) abut UX Buzzwords. The presentation was by Marti Gold, who is a energetic, snarky and colorful speaker. I love hearing Marti because she keeps it raw and real. She is also a fellow member of Ladies that UX Dallas.

Anyways, back to Marti’s talk, which she called “Buzzword Landmines: Ten Phrases That Can Undermine Your Best Ux Efforts.” Like I said before, Marti is a very entertaining speaker. And this presentation was no exception.

The gist of Marti’s speech was that when UX Designers use a buzzword or phrase, that might have a different meaning and interpretation by the business partner or product owner. In fact, ore often than not, the product owner does have a completely different idea of what your meaning of the buzzword is. The point of her talk was to avoid or stop using these buzzwords all together. So what are the dangerous, confusing UX words?

Here’s the list of UX buzzwords to avoid:

  • Iteration
  • Design thinking
  • UX
  • Disruptive
  • Content Strategy
  • Responsive
  • MVP
  • Brand standards
  • Challenges
  • Buy in

Big D Conference in Dallas 2017

Jennifer Blatz User experience designer Big D Dallas Design Conference.
Passing the time between conference tracks by chatting with the one and only Alan Cooper.

I recently attended the annual BigD conference right here in Dallas. We are really lucky to have such a wonderful conference right here in Dallas. It seems like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York always seem to get the love of big conferences. So Brian Sullivan, a UX institution here in Dallas, set up our own local conference.

BigD has been held in Dallas now for 10 years, y’all. Like the locals would say. ha!

This year was a milestone year of BigD. The conference celebrated 10 years in existence. Yay! We had some great presenters and attendees this year including:

  • Alan Cooper
  • Jared Spool
  • Steve Portigal
  • Christian Crumlish
  • Along with several local UX “celebrities”

Th best part of me for this conference to to meet up with old friends and meet new ones. BigD is a great opportunity to meet other UX talent from the Dallas community and beyond. A lot of people do not have the time or interests to participate in local Meetup events. So this is a nice way to meet other UX folks and to expand my network. Plus, like I sad before, it’s a good opportunity to reconnect with old colleagues and coworkers. Oh, and it’s always fun to get a big of swag.

Jennifer Blatz user experience designer UX and BigD design conference Dallas

 

UX Tidbits

100 days of learning UX Design journal from Jennifer Blatz

Back in 2015 I pushed myself to learn a little something extra about User Experience for 100 days. Granted, I did skip a few days, but for the most part I was pretty consecutive. I got over 100 entries of quotes, laws, terms, principles, lists and more.

The practice was simple: keep a User Experience-focused journal and write down things that you learn. Force yourself to seek out some information every day. And keep a record of your findings.

As I am re-reading them today, some of the things have been forgotten. So I decided it would be good practice for me to resist and share some of the UX tips, tidbits and terms I am rediscovering. My new series called “UX Tidbits” will be in addition to my regular writings and insights. Please enjoy the new series of “UX Tidbits” and let me know what you think.

Interaction design vs. User Experience design

Yes, folks, there are still many industries and companies that do not understand the difference between interaction design and User Experience design. You would think that major corporations would have grasped the differences between the concepts by now. Alas, through my recent review of job descriptions, there are many companies, especially in the Dallas area, that say they are hiring a UX designer, but what they actually want is an Interaction designer.

Jennifer Blatz UX design. User Experience Design is not User Interface design.
UX is not UI

Many in the field of User Experience are familiar with the above chart. Perhaps, like me, you had to include this in a presentation to educate your client or co-workers. Despite the fact that there is some level of maturity in the field of UX, there is still a lot of confusion between the two.

As I mentioned before, I was recently perusing job descriptions for a UX designer in the Dallas area. I was noticing a trend:

  • The job title said UX Designer
  • The job description listed skills like research, strategy, wireframes and usability tests
  • It also said they company was looking for deliverables like personas, user flows and wireframes

However, upon further investigation, I discovered that these companies do no really want a UX designer, they actually want someone who is specifically a UI designer.

Jennifer Blatz UX design. User Experience Design is not User Interface design.
Interaction design actually falls under the umbrella of UX design.

It is completely OK to want a UI designer. Nothing wrong with that at all. But I feel like these companies are just copying other job descriptions and applying them to their own organization. (This is the same reason why you don’t just copy someone else’s design without understanding the context and reasoning as to why they came to the solution they did.) To me, just swiping a job description from another company and finessing it slightly so it sounds like your own is just lazy. I think it speaks leaps and bounds to the level of UX Maturity within your organization. Even if you are a large corporation with thousands of employees, or a highly respected agency with many high-end clients, you should know the difference between UX and Interaction design. If you don’t, shame on you!

My advice to companies is this: if you are looking for an Interaction Designer, just say that. Ask for skills like visual design, user interface design and interaction design. It is OK to be that specific. No need to pad up the job description pretending you wants skills like research, personas and task analysis. You, Dear Company, don’t really want those things. So be specific in your requirements and you will get the ideal candidate that much sooner. You will not waste your time or a potential job candidate’s time if you are more accurate in your job descriptions.

800 followers on Twitter

I am so thankful and shocked that I have reached the huge milestone of gaining 800 followers on Twitter. Yes I know there are people who have a lot more followers than I do. And those people always will.

Thank you all for showing interest in my UX Design and Research tweets. I feel so lucky to have just one follower, let alone having reached 800. I really appreciate all of the love.

Do you want to see what I post on Twitter too?  Follow Jen Blatz on Twitter by visiting my page and joining the club. ha!

Cross functional collaboration: UX Design and Dev working together

UX Designer and developer working together.

Working in the field of User Experience is rarely working alone. It is a highly collaborative environment and this means that oftentimes developers and designers must work together.

There was a time when designers would just mock up designs and “throw the designs over the wall” to the the developers who would then put the designs in to code. This led to a lot of tension; mostly because there was little communication. Now I find that better designs come as a result of communication across disciplines and areas of expertise.

I love talking with my devs. There are so many benefits of doing so:

  • Devs are aware of design decisions on the table,  they feel more involved
  • They can point out potential technical issues and constraints
  • They often have great suggestions
  • It’s their product too, they will have more pride in their work if they are involved in the process, not just pulled in at the tail end
  • Talking together builds camaraderie and and stronger teams
  • They can fill in knowledge gaps or holes you might have

Basically, early communication between UX designers and developers gets everyone on the same page. And let’s face it, we work with these people the majority of the day. It makes for a better work environment if you get along with your co-workers.

So I encourage you to talk with your developers, several times a day if you can. Do this to build stronger relationships, learn from each other and have buy-in from all members of the team so you can build better products.

Blog is back

Are you wondering where I have been hiding? Me too!

I had some technical difficulties because my website got hacked. And because the main website was hacked, I lost access to my blog.

The good news is that I am up and running again… for now! The bad news is I lost all of the images that accompanied my blog posts. I am slowly trying to restore most of them. But some may never be replaced.

Never the less I learned a few valuable lessons from this experience:

  • Back up your files. Sure I tend to think I save often. But backing up your files is just as important. And I really neglected to back things up.
  • Know a great developer. My good friend Anita Cheng cleaned up my files an got me up and running again. I would not have a website again if not for her.
  • Did I mention to back up your files?

Thanks for your patience. I will post more UX-related stuff soon.

Persona feedback session: deck and summary

The personas I worked on for a major financial institution took months of research to create. I wanted to involve the company’s interested stakeholders so that they were involved in the creation process as well. At the very least, I wanted their feedback on what they needed in personas so that I could meet their needs.

When I shared the personas with my colleagues for the first time, I did not want it to be a “Big Reveal.” I wanted to reflect that I had taken the stakeholders’ feedback and suggestions on board. I had researched and built a first draft of the personas. And I wanted my persona presentation to reflect that these were not just “my” personas, but in fact, they belonged to the whole organization.

Some of the Persona Feedback session included:

  • Sharing the stakeholder feedback I had gathered
  • Explaining what a persona is
  • Showing the difference between UX persona and marketing segments
  • Illustrating the persona development journey
  • Showing the first draft of the personas
  • Presenting the components and portions of the personas and describing the purpose of each part

After I explained the process of creating the personas, defining them and sharing them, then I asked the groups to critique them. I wanted feedback on four aspects about the personas:

  • What they liked
  • What they did not like
  • What they needed more information about
  • What they needed less information about

After gathering their feedback, my intension is to roll that feedback in to my next round of qualitative research. I want to make sure I am meeting the users’ needs. In this case that is the stakeholders, including designers, design lads and product managers.

View the entire Persona feedback presentation workshop. I would love your feedback on what I talk about in my slides. Do you agree or disagree?

A surveys does not have to be the dirty ‘S’ word

Jennifer Blatz User Experience UX design and research
Surveys can be useful to supplement empathy interviews.

When it comes to user experience research, there are several methods to gather information. One of those research methods is a  survey. Now, a lot of UX researchers might frown upon the use of surveys. It’s true, they are a great way to gather quantitative information. And that is great to gather in a lot of circumstances. But when it comes to user experience, quantity is not as important as understanding the “why” someone does something. That is the value of qualitative research over quantitative.

So a lot of “pure” UX researchers choose to not even entertain the idea of sending out a survey. I think this mindset is because a survey may be an opportunity to gather some insights, but they are not always very helpful insights. And for those who don’t know any better, a person might interpret these survey answers as gospel. Again, they don’t provide the “why” someone is doing something.

For the survey portion I am sharing above, I used a survey as a supplement to a recent empathy interview session I performed. I was interviewing people on their recent car-purchase journey. Instead of asking participants what kind of car they bought, or what automobile features were of the utmost importance, I chose to gather some of this information in a survey. I gave the participant this survey to fill out before we had our interview. And in case you are worried, I did ask a lot of the same information about why they bought a car so that I could dig deeper in to the “why” they bought what they did. Also, this gave me an opportunity to see just how consistent people were in their answers. Thankfully all of them were.

So, the lesson here folks is that as a user experience researcher, don’t completely rule out a survey. You can gather a lot more information you might not have time to find out in just an hour interview. Remember, as a good researcher, you should have a lot of tools in your tool kit. And yes, a survey should be one of them.

Service Design and creating a Blueprint

Is your organization doing Service Design?

It seems like it’s one of the hottest new trends in the User/Customer Experience arena. Where I work, not only have we been introduced to the concept, we are being encouraged to carry out the process on our products.

What is a Service Design Blueprint?

Yeah that was my question too when I first heard the term some time back. Does it have to do with architecture? Is it only for the service industry? How does this play in to UX? Yes I had all of these questions and many more.

OK, really, What is Service Design?

According to Wikipedia, Service Design is:

  • Involves the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service.
  • To improve its quality and the interaction between the service provider and its customers.
  • May function as a way to inform changes to an existing service or create a new service entirely.
  • The purpose is to establish best practices for designing services according to both the needs of customers and the competencies and capabilities of service providers.
  • The service will be user-friendly and relevant to the customers, while being sustainable and competitive for the service provider.

Ok, this all sounds good right? So how do I get started? I am lucky enough to have attended the Adaptive Path Service Design seminar which gave me a grand introduction to the value and process. I am going to share a great asset they provided to me so that you can share it with your teams. (PDF is attached at the bottom of the article.)

Service Design blueprinting building blocks.

Now that you have a bit of foundation of what it means, I suggest you start creating Service Blueprints for the various products and services that your organization produces. You would be amazed the opportunities and caps you will discover from a Service Design blueprint exercise. Give it a try!

Service Blueprint block Example layout

Persona share out: stakeholder interviews

I know there are many ways to build personas. Sure, you can build them on assumptions and guesses and just throw something together quickly. But actions like that just leave a bad taste I’m my mouth. I want personas to be based on research, not assumptions.

One major project I am working on now is to create personas for vehicle purchasers. Where I work, one of the products we are working on deals with the consumer automobile buying space. One things we don’t have is personas. An even bigger flow of our organization is that we are designing products without having personas to consult for our design validation. I won’t dwell on this aspect too much. Let’s just say our organization is coming to light and recognizing the importance of having personas.

My task is to build kick-ass personas. I am up for the challenge.

One of the first steps I took in building personas is to talk to several stakeholders who would have interest in these personas. I talked to designers, design leads, product managers and researchers to find out one thing:

What information do you need from a persona?

I asked a few other questions as well, but this was my primary goal in this phase of my research.  I am sharing the information about “What do stakeholders need from personas” is in the attached deck.

Persona Jennifer Blatz Stakeholders 2017

700 Twitter Followers: Thank you!

I am so excited to report that I have reached a huge milestone. I have accumulated 700 Twitter followers. I feel so honored and humbled to have even one follower, let alone 700.

Twitter has become a great avenue for me to stay on top of the latest news in UX, and to share that with the broader UX community. I have to admit, when I first started on Twitter, I thought it was lame. I thought, “I don’t care about what people had for breakfast.” “I don’t care how long they had to stand in line to get their stupid Starbucks coffee.” Now I understand that i you follow the right people, Twitter is a very valuable resource.

Granted, I understand how volatile Twitter can be. You can read this blog and then go on to my Twitter account and it has dipped below 700. I know this can happen at any moment. But my larger hope it so keep this grand number of followers (Wow, 700!) and continue to expand it in the future.

For me, it’s not just a vanity number. I’d be kidding myself to not feel excited and honored to have any followers. But it is as much about being part of a great UX community. And this community expand the world. I feel honored to learn from people all over the globe from who I follow. And I hope to expand my network as well.

If you would like to follow me on Twitter too, find me at jnblatz on Twitter. Thanks.

P.S How cute is that dog in the image? Yep, I am a dog lover. He’s a cutey patutey!!

How do you stay on top of things?

How do you stay on top of things?

Ahhh the golden interview questions that I am sure every UX designer has heard at least once.

  • Where do you go for resources?
  • What Websites do you visit to learn more?
  • What tutorials or other resources do you use to learn a new software or service?
  • How do you stay on top of the latest trends?
  • What software are you using for (fill in the blank)?
  • What is your “best practice” for (fill in the blank)?

Yes, we have all asked these questions, or heard them asked, or wanted to sleep but could not because these questions are bouncing around in our heads.

So I would like to open this post up for discussion. Because I feel like I am wounding about these types of questions all of the time. I want answers. Can you provide some of the answers to the above questions? Or do you have a resource that might answer them? I know I don’t get a lot of traffic on this blog, but if you do swing by and feel like chatting about this topic, I would be forever grateful.

Now: Let’s talk!

Peak-End Rule and User Experience Design

Have you ever interviewed a user, after the fact, about an experience and they had nothing but positive things to say about it? But you know that they struggled or had pain points along the way. This phenomenon has a name, and it’s known as peak–end rule.

What is the peak-end rule?

Peak-end rule is a phenomenon where people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak. The peak is the most intense moment. In other words, they forget about all of the feelings and emotions they were experience throughout the entire event. And thy seem to just “remember” how they felt at the peak, whether that is good or bad. This model dictates that an event is not judged by the entirety of an experience, but by prototypical moments (or snapshots) as a result of the representativeness heuristic, according to Wikipedia.

Why does it happen?

The peak-end rule tends to happen more on emotional events, even though people are not usually aware of their motional involvement at the time.  Also, people tend to remember how things turned out overall. If they had final success in the process, then their memory is going to be more positive and they tend to forget about the struggles they had along the journey. People just tend to think more positively of themselves when they have accomplished something, and therefore forget the negative aspects. One way to think about this is, if people think too much about it, and focus on the pain they went through, then they are likely to feel that pain again. So perhaps this is a instinctive defense mechanism? Without obtaining a psychology degree, I will leave that question open for debate.

How can you avoid it in your research?

The best way I can think of avoiding the peak-end bias is to observe participants in real time instead of relying on their account of it after the fact. This is why ethnographic research is so important in User Experience design. People are not even aware of some of the actions they perform. But if you are there to observe them in person, you discover all sorts of nuggets in behavior the user might not be aware to share. When you observe a participant, you see things like pain points, struggles, repetition, redundancy, mistakes, hacks, work arounds, cheating, confusion and all sorts of gold nuggets of user behavior.

I have seen it time and time again, a participant is trying to complete a task, and the software or website they are using does not perform as expected. The participant is frustrated. Maybe she expresses a slight sigh in displeasuer. Maybe she even tries to accomplish the task in a different way. Maybe she concedes and relies on the “hack” she has created as a work around. When confronted on an obvious frustration, she makes comments like:

  • Oh what to you mean? Did I make a face? I didn’t even notice.
  • I always have to do this.
  • It’s no big deal, it’s just part of the job.

These comments are a tell-tale sign of actions that would likely not be reported in an interview after the fact.

The bottom line: Get out of the building and observe your user first hand. You will get much more context witnessing them in their environment rather than just “taking their word for it.” Observation is king!

New Year, New Goals – Go 2017!


OK I know it’s pretty far in to the new year. And in keeping my vow to regularly have blog posts I have been cheating a bit by basically re-posting content. So I am going to reflect on my 2016 goals and see what I can build upon and start anew.

First, let’s look at 2016 goals at the beginning of the year. I think that there are a few of theses I can revisit and try to accomplish in 2017.

Learn programs

  • Sketch

Read books

  • “Design of Everyday Things”
  • “Checklist Manifesto”
  • “How to Get People to do Stuff”

Write blog posts

  • I am shooting to post 25 original blog posts in 2017

Ok so that’s a good reasonable start. I want to add a few more in 2017.

  • Become and “expert” in some discipline concerning UX. (Even if I am the only one who thinks I am an expert. ha!)
  • Mock up pages in Sketch to enhance portfolio
  • Continue to grow online presence in Twitter
  • Learn Sketch well enough to mock up several interfaces to expand portfolio and skill set (yep, I wrote that twice)
  • Grow my UX network in Dallas
  • Learn more about Service Design

Getting Unstuck via @odannyboy

I recently received this article in an email from Jared Spool written by Dan Saffer. I thought the words were really inspirational. We all get stuck at times. And sometimes a few simple steps can get us out of a rut. Take a look at the suggestions below and see if you agree. Or do you have additional tips to get unstuck?

Here are his tips for how to build a creative habit that sustains you through those dark days when ideas run dry.

  • Prepare: Build a creative habit. Schedule a small block of time and show up every day.
  • Find a ritual: Artists often create a ritual around the work they do to get them in the right headspace. It could be listening to music, arranging pencils, what-have-you. Find what works for you.
  • Keep a list of your top three big questions: Hang them in a visible place in your workspace so you can think about them.
  • Walk: If you are feeling stuck, get outside. Why? Because even Nietzsche thought it was a good idea.
  • Be boring: If you are out and about, resist the urge to look at your phone and other digital distractions.
  • Time: Spend as much time as you can with the problem you are trying to solve.

Solutions tend to come to us when we aren’t thinking very hard about them. Give yourself the space to ruminate over ideas, ideate, and percolate.

Honorable mention: best UX Los Angeles blogs

I feel so honored that someone has mentioned my blog and one of the best UX blogs in the Los Angeles area. Though many of my topics are not Los Angeles centric, I still appreciate that my blog got a mention.

You can read the original Quora post at What are the best UX blogs and Twitter accounts to follow in the Los Angeles area? I am not sure who mentioned my blog, but I can assure you it was not me. But I thank whoever the anonymous poster is who gave me a shout out. You rock! There are a number of great UX resources, both Los Angeles based and not, in that Quora post. So check it out and learn a bit about your UX community. 

2016: Year in review

Jennifer Blatz UX Design 2016 year in review

Seems like everyone has a year in review. What celebrities died this year? What were the biggest news stories? What can we expect in 2017? Well I am not going to recap all the biggest news for 2016. Instead, I would like to reflect on the crazy year it has been for me and to see if I actually accomplished ANY of my goals. ha ha.

To start with, I took a look at my mid year post “Mid Year: Revisiting My Personal Goals” to see how my goal accomplishment were stacking up there. Well, as you can see from the article, I missed few and hit a few. That’s ok, because my career to a huge shift in the middle of the year that caused me to quickly start a new job and move across the country.

Accomplished
  • Re-learned Axure. I did, but I have not practiced it as much as I should have so I probably forgot a lot of the actions.
  • Continue writing blog posts. I wanted to hit 30 blog posts this year. I am pretty sure I did that. I want to continue this practice in the new year.
  • Join a side project. I helped out with Wingspanarts. As of today, the site has not launched their redesign. But I hope they will find a great developer and do so early in the new year.

So those were my major accomplishments. My list was much shorter than I hoped. But I am OK with that. Like I said, I had some major career shifts this year and I needed to focus on sharpening new skills needed for the job. My plan is to think about my new goals for the new year and write a post soon.

Until then, I hope you had a wonderful year. I hope you accomplished some goals, and don’t beat yourself up about the ones you did not knock off your list. There’s always next year to revisit those goals and to make new ones.

Like we all know in UX, it is ok to learn from your failings. Also, it’s ok to pivot in your goals when life hands you changes. Just go with the flow…in 2017.

Research Lab vs. Wild: which do you prefer?

Are you a UX designer or researcher who has the luxury to do some research in a lab? Not every organization has an on-site facility where things like empathy interviews and usability tests can take place. But for those that do, let’s explore the pros and cons of the lab and working in the wild.

I have had the ability to work in both a professional usability lab and perform ethnographic research in a person’s natural environment. I have my opinions about both, but I will reserve those until the end. First, let’s cover a bit about the difference between working with users in these environments.

Working in a Lab

A lab is a great set up. The tables and chairs are all set up for you. It’s quiet and protected from outside noises a person will usually encounter in a public place. The lab can be technically fitted with luxuries like video and audio recording capabilities. They usually have power sources, so users can use in-house and already loaded equipment like computers and mobile devices. When an organization has a lab, they often have a budget for fancy recording devices like a sled for recording mobile actions or eye tracking software. A lab is a great place to get controlled, scripted and qualified studies and act as a calm testing environment.

But a lab is not real. It’s not a person’s real home or office. It’s not the actual place a person would be performing an action like shopping online or texting with friends. A lab is a fake set up requiring a person to suspend belief and pretend they are in their natural environment. And this can be done to a point. But if people surf the web with their feet up on the table, with a tablet on their lap and a mobile device in their hand, using pre-described lab equipment will not realistically record a person’s natural behavior. Plus, just being put in a lab setting puts a person on edge and makes them feel uncomfortable. We all feel strange when we know we are being recorded. We probably even act differently and are not even aware of it. Yes, knowing these factors, we as researchers should try to combat these fears and make the environment feel as homey as possible. This just cannot be completely done since it truly is a false environment as far as the participant is concerned.

Despite a lab having many technical and environmental luxuries, you can see why many people opt to view people in their natural environment. Not to mention that most companies cannot afford to have an on site lab or pay to use external lab facilities. So for those who have no lab, it’s time to talk about jumping in to the wild and observing people in their natural habitat

Working in the wild

Observing participants in their natural environment provides many advantages. First, it is cost prohibitive. We won’t have to pay for lab facilities to see a person work in their home or office. Second, people feel more comfortable if they are on their own turf. It’s their home, so they know where to sit, how they work and where they normally do things. Also, the beauty of performing a contextual inquiry, or observing someone in their natural environment, is that you can take note of the items around them. How do they sit? What is their set up? What items do they have around them? What items do they use while interacting online? What is around them that is distracting? Who are they interacting with? And so much more. When you are in a person’s place, you can see the special notes and shortcuts they keep handy. Do they have their password written on a Post It note right on the computer monitor? All of these little environmental clues are golden nuggets that cannot be copied in a lab environment. Finally, one more benefit of people working in their own space is that you are getting a much more accurate picture of who they are and how they fit in to their space. You can never gain this kind of insight when they are sitting in a foreign lab using foreign equipment and getting instruction on how they can do things rather than exploring an interface on their own.

Despite the many advantages of entering a person’s real world and viewing how they really work in this context, there are also issues in working within these surroundings. Going to someone’s home many not be the safest situation because you don’t know exactly what you are getting in to. Make sure you travel with at least one “note taking” buddy to ensure your safety. Also you are very likely to encounter obstacles like noise, distractions, space limitations, and inaccessibility that can make researching in an environment tricky at best. Plus, when observing people in their surroundings, they can fall victim to The Hawthorne Affect. Basically, that is when people modify their normal behavior when they are being observed. Just keep in mind that this could happen with any, if not all participants so plan accordingly. Keep these factors in mind, and cater your research to accommodate such potential pitfalls. However, don’t let these deter you from going in to the wild. From my experience, I have gathered much richer insight by seeing a person reacting to their environment in real time, as opposed to the comfortable, staged lab setting.

What do I choose? Lab or Environment?

As is the classic answer to so many questions. It depends…. Obviously if you don’t have a lab, then that decision is easy: go out in to the wild. But if you do have a lab, I would encourage you to still go out of the building and see people in their natural space. It clearly provides a context that you will never get in a lab.

Rapid Prototyping with Tom Chi

Jennifer Blatz UX Design presentation
Sharing with your team when they cannot participate in an event or workshop is a good skill to have in your UX Designer toolbox.

Our office recently had the honor of hosting renowned GoogleX prototyper Tom Chi. He came in to our office to work with Product Managers on learning the value of testing fast and testing now! I had a chance to participate in the session as both a user, working through prototypes, and as part of a team building the prototypes for testing.

I have to admit a lot of what Tom covered was not completely new:

  • Find the quickest path to the experience
  • Test early and test often
  • Don’t guess. Learn
  • Don’t “fail.” Learn
  • Stop talking and start doing
  • Get in front of your users and get their feedback

But there were a couple of concepts that really resonated with me and thought they provided value to the session.

Drive conjectures to experiments. Experiments drive decisions.

Conjectures are the same thing as guesses. In other words, people tend to get stuck in “analysis paralysis” and over talking about the situation. In fact, a lot of these discussions are not reality based and is a process of throwing out personals opinions. It might be driven by the best intentions. But these conversations often go on for too long and are never backed up by actual user research. So encourage your group to stop talking and start doing.

The way we did this in the Tom Chi Prototyping session was to stop talking and we each sketched ideas quietly for 3 minutes. They key here is to sketch individually in silence. There should be no talking during the sketching exercise so that each person is exploring individual ideas without the influence from others. After sketching, the ideas are then shared with the group. One or more idea is selected as the “champion.” And this this rough sketch is what should be tested with users. No need to create a higher fidelity version of the sketch. Just show them the rough sketch and get quick feedback before you are too emotionally and technically invested.

Focus on people’s energy

Whenever there is energy, that means something that matters is happening. This energy can be positive or negative. When a customer gets exciting about something, pay attention to that. And the same is true when they show angry excitement as well. It’s these magic “energy” moments that really improve or ruin an experience. So tweak those energy points to make them awesome. One particular example Tom Chi mentioned was Uber. Most of the Uber experience is just like riding in a cab. It’s the few seconds that are different in that experience is what matters.

Don’t lead the witness

Finally, I want to talk about one lesson I learned by going through these sessions. Most of the people participating in our sessions were not researchers. In fact, there were product managers and designers. These are empathetic people who are excited about getting great feedback from users. But they don’t understand that the way they ask questions can skew the response from the participant. It is better to ask broad, open-ended questions rather than helping the participants by giving them examples. It is these tactics that researchers know how to do, but others might not know. They don’t understand that by providing examples for the person to think about, they might be blocking other examples they could possibly come up with on their own. With a little coaching, I know that product managers, designers and other non researchers can learn effective ways to ask non-leading questions.

Take away

I thought the most valuable aspect of bringing Tom Chi in house was to empower non-designers. I think he gave everyone confidence that they can explore ideas, sketch the ideas, and get quick feedback from customers. I hope this process takes off and continues well in to the future.

To read more of my notes, read the Tom Chi Prototyping Workshop presentation that I shared with my team.

 

Card sorting for more than navigation

I recently had the opportunity to practice a research method that is often used to help organize a website’s navigation. Card sorting is a research method used to help structure a site, product or other system. Card sorting helps you to get better insight in to the user’s mental model, as well as how they expect things to be structured and organized. I have written about my experience using card sorting before in another article titled, “UX Deliverables: Card Sort.”

Today I want to discuss using card sorting as another way of understanding how users organize information. Again, card sorting seems to be primarily used to organize navigation. In this study I used card sorting to have customers prioritize and sort education topics based on their interest in that topic. In other words, I had them show which topics they had an interest in, and those they did not.

“Card sorting is a user-centered design method for increasing a system’s findability. The process involves sorting a series of cards, each labeled with a piece of content or functionality, into groups that make sense to users or participants. http://boxesandarrows.com/card-sorting-a-definitive-guide/

The Reason

A customer is signing up for a new loan account. This is a great opportunity to give them more information about loans and finances. We wanted a better understanding of the types of information a person would want in the onboarding process. And as important, we wanted to know the types of information a new customer did NOT want.

The Method

No need to get all fancy and high tech. The great thing about card sorting is you can do it in the dark – well sort of. You don’t need a computer to gain great insights from your participant. Just use some index cards (or regular paper) with words or phrases typed or written on them. Have a flat surface where the participant can lay out the cards. Have a few extra blank cards and a marker just in case the person wants to create new cards. This happens more than you would expect. Do your best not to provide too much information or any definitions because you want to simulate a natural experience. In the context of her home, she would not have anyone explaining the terms to her. So we need this situation to be as realistic as possible.

The Process

Present these cards – in no particular order – to the participant and have him/her organize them in to categories that make sense to him/her. In this case, the categories were predetermined for the participant, but then he/she could create more if needed. In fact, in this study, one participant did create his/her own category. While the person is sorting out the cards, encourage him/her to talk through the process and explain his/her rationale. It’s this information that is actually much more valuable that the final results in many ways. To get a better understanding why he/she is putting items in to groups helps you to understand his/her mental model. This will help you to create a better structure and design. If you know why people group things together, you can anticipate future groupings if you need to add more choices later. Also, customers tend to organize things much more differently than the business would. It’s better to see the customer’s point of view so that you can make his/her journey successful.

The Results

What I love most about a card sorting is two things that will often surface: the surprises and the trends. Both ends of the spectrum are so wonderful when card sorting. As the administrator of the study, you want to see common themes emerge and bubble up to the surface. This helps you to organize topics cleanly and in a way the customer will enjoy. If multiple people expect things to be grouped in a certain way, that makes your life as an Information Architect easier.

The other side of the coin is items that surprises the research team. This could be especially helpful if you use a term that the participant does not understand. Most likely it’s industry or technical jargon – which should be avoided at all costs! If you do come across terms that confuse the participant in any way, consider changing or modifying it. In fact, you could ask the person what term they would use instead. Again, asking the person for feedback will often enrich your research and aide in creating a better experience.

The End

After the study, share your insights with the team. It’s even better if members of the team are sitting in the research session with you so they can see first-hand what the participant said and did. But if you can’t have those team members who are involved in the product directly observe the card sorting session, sharing a brief, insightful report is the next best thing. The lesson here is to keep the card sorting method in your pocket for potential use in the future. Card sorting does not have to be reserved strictly for determining navigation. It’s a versatile tech-agnostic method that can be used to organize information quickly and easily. Try it out next time you need to organize and structure information.