Monday, May 25, 2015

Using realistic data in a design prototype

I mentioned code-based prototypes a few weeks back. Here’s a related observation.

I like to put realistic-looking content into my higher-fidelity prototypes. The main reason for my preference is that, in many cases, a design can’t be effectively evaluated if it doesn’t present realistic data and/or information. You need to see how the design handles the real thing.

When I was at Karos Health, I regularly used the names of jazz musicians to create fake patient data that was used in various design prototypes. I did it for two reasons, the first being my preference for realistic data and/or information.

The second is more subtle: while the names looked realistic, anyone who recognized a name like Miles Davis or Louis Armstrong would realize that what was being shown wasn’t real real patient data. That was an important consideration in health care, where patient privacy is a critical concern. One of my favourite moments came when someone viewing a prototype noticed that a birthday shown for Miles Davis was correct. (In fact, all the birthdays were correct.) The attention to detail made an impression!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

This is a recommendation?

Netflix is a service with which I have a love/hate relationship. Even with the comparatively slim pickings offered by the service in Canada, the monthly fee provides pretty good value. And, of course, the offerings became more compelling since they got into creating their own content, some of which is terrific. And being able to watch on multiple devices is a terrific feature, especially with playback synced across them.

I’ve never, though, enjoyed the experience of finding videos to watch. Scrolling through titles can be slow and imprecise. There’s no way for me to easily recall the videos that I want to watch; the “My List” feature reorders videos, making it hard to find something that I thought I had added. The “Suggestions for You” that it makes can sometimes seem cryptic — what, exactly makes for  “Exciting Movies”? And I regularly find unhelpful recommendations along the lines of “Because you watched [title of video]” where the first listing is something else that I watched recently.

Videos covers for "Stone Cold" and "The Stoning"Here’s a different unhelpful pair of recommendations that I ran into some time ago. Having watched a Robert De Niro movie called Stone (part of it, anyway), Netflix thought that I’d be interested in a movie called Stone Cold, as well as The Stoning of Soraya M. As far as I can tell, the movies have little in common other than similarities in their titles.

I get that this isn’t necessarily easy, and my response is mostly bemusement as the recommendations generally don’t add a lot of value for me. It just feels like discovery of what to watch is an untapped opportunity.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Why I write software code as a part of my design work

Now that the whole designers-coding-stuff thing has died down a little (or maybe it hasn’t?), I thought I’d share some thoughts on why I code on my own design projects. There are a couple of main reasons why I engage in this activity.

First, I believe that it’s important for me as a designer to have a solid understanding of the medium for which I’m designing. Being able to code helps me better understand the things that matter to developers on a software product team, and it enables me to communicate more effectively with them.

Second, creating prototypes is a part of the design process for me. Prototypes, in various levels of fidelity, help me think through what the interaction should be for a particular design solution. Obviously prototypes have other uses; they are great for communicating a design to product team members and, of course, they are central in the testing of a product design with users.

There are many tools available for creating product prototypes. As it turns out, though, because I’ve been coding with html/css/js for so many years now, I can actually work fairly quickly to create a code-based prototype that I can iterate on and refine efficiently. I’m able to create realistic interactions and behaviours that are a big challenge with other approaches. I can start with something crude and wireframe-ish and iterate to something more polished. I like to call late-stage, high fidelity, code-based prototypes “real software with fake functionality”! It might be best to avoid ray guns, though…

Monday, April 27, 2015

User story mapping at Felt Lab

Last Friday I visited the REAP Felt Lab to provide an introduction to user story mapping in a lunch-hour workshop. I’ve been a big fan of story mapping ever since I was introduced to it in a workshop by Jeff Patton back in 2008, and I was delighted when he finally released a definitive book on the topic last year. I highly recommend User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product to anyone who wants to learn more about this powerful technique that can help product development teams focus on users and their needs rather than on features.

The introduction that I delivered comes straight from Patton’s book, and the folks at Felt Lab were thoroughly engaged by the experience. It was a full house, and each team learned a lot during the surprisingly challenging exercise of creating a story map about their morning routines.

Unsurprisingly, the same engagement and enlightenment were visible during a similar uxWaterloo session back in March.

If you missed these events, keep an eye on the schedule for The Boltmade Sessions, as there’s a good chance that we’ll deliver another iteration of the workshop there.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Video highlights from Fluxible 2014

We’re roughly mid-way between Fluxible 2014 and Fluxible 2015. The Fluxible team is currently focused on our 2015 event, with speakers being announced and plenty of behind-the-scenes details being attended to. There’s some great stuff coming, and I’m sure that folks will be excited about this year’s program.

Right now, though, let’s take a moment to look back at Fluxible 2014. My conference co-chair Bob Barlow-Busch has put together this highlights video, which is a delightful celebration of the 2014 experience. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The power of creating something that’s just good enough

We had a fun day at Boltmade recently, engaging in a series of testing sessions with users to assess the usability of a product that we’re working on for a client.

We had made some extensive changes to a particular mobile workflow, and needed to create a testable artifact as quickly as possible. This scenario is well understood in the UX design world, and is pretty much par for the course when taking a Lean approach to creating a product. In this case there was a striking observation that emerged during testing that surprised us all.

The test artifact that we created used a mix of approaches: an existing product was used to show functionality that was already well-understood; paper screens were created to show new functionality; and a human simulated the product back-end by sending appropriate feedback messages through the existing product in response to user input.

We had a test rig set up that enabled some of the team to observe from another room while a user interacted with the new design on a mobile device. It was easy to watch progress on a large screen during each testing session and, as always, there were useful insights that emerged.

Every time the paper screen was overlaid on the mobile device by our test facilitator we chuckled, as it looked funny to see the paper slide into place on the big screen. None of the users, though, had any trouble with the switch from pixels to paper and back again. And the messages that were sent by one of our team to the mobile device created a smooth and easily understood experience.

But the most striking thing we saw only became obvious, even to us, at the end of the day.

Despite the test artifact being a mix of real and fake functionality that included pieces of paper overlaid on a device screen, it felt “real”. Each user was even asked to “enter” information onto the paper “screen”, and to then watch the response on the mobile device screen; it still felt “real”.

And it was “real” to such an extent that every user we tested with told us, either unprompted or when asked, that the messages they saw in the mobile app were coming from a system with some kind of clever A.I. behind it. The workflow provided such an immersive experience that even paper screens did nothing to break the illusion that we were testing with a “real” mobile app.

When testing a hypothesis in a Lean context, you don’t need to build a fully functional artifact. All you need is an artifact that is good enough to learn from during testing. And that can mean designing and prototyping before starting to build.

This post also appears over on the Boltmade blog.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bypassing clarity with LinkedIn

LinkedIn is one of the most successful social media networks and, with its focus on career, it’s a valuable tool for many of us.

I’ve noticed that I receive many requests to connect that contain nothing more than the default message that LinkedIn provides. As a result, I’m not sure why the request has been made. Generally, that’s not a huge problem if it’s someone I know. When it’s someone I’ve never met and don’t know, though, it can make it hard for me to accept the request and I often don’t.

There’s at least one reason for those default requests that is addressable by LinkedIn. When accessed from some places, the workflow for making a connection request includes an opportunity for the requestor to include a custom message.  It could be something like “Hey, great to see you at uxWaterloo last week. Let’s stay in touch about that Fluxible conference!”, which is actually pretty helpful for me. In other places, though, the workflow doesn’t provide that opportunity, which means that the default message is what appears in the request. This feels like a design gap to me. LinkedIn should ensure that it’s always an option for requestors to provide a custom message.

And if you’re using LinkedIn, take advantage of the opportunity to provide a little context and to explain why you want to connect!