My Own Service Design Mentor

One piece of career advice I keep hearing (for instance in Whitney Hess’s interview on the UX Intern Podcast) is to get a mentor.

Why Get a Mentor?

The value of that is obvious: A smart, experienced person who you meet with regularly and learn the craft from? Sign me up!

Oh wait.

The Hard Part

There’s no actual sign-up sheet? You mean I have to actually go find someone and convince them to spend hours of their free time with me, chatting and teaching me about their career?

That’s the hard part.

It’s a really BIG ask.

So I’d been procrastinating on this for ages.

My Mentor

But then in late-2016 I met Mark Plant. He works at my company, ION, but in a different department. Whereas my team works on a specific product, Mark’s team is more of an internal design agency, working on developing various products, both internally and externally.

Basically, he’s doing my dream job 🙂

Testing the Waters

So I bought him a coffee and peppered him with questions about his career and the field of UX. It also came up that he’s into skiing and mountain biking, much like myself, so I asked him a lot about that as well.

Somehow the barrage of questions didn’t scare him off, so I offered to go for another coffee a week or two later. And by then he was already going through a step-by-step explanation of not just UX, but the wider fields of Service Design, Experience Design, and more. It was like he had a curriculum developed and was just waiting for some young designer like myself to ask him to teach them.

It’s Official!

And before I could even ask him to be my mentor, he offered!

We now meet every week or two to design a new app based on the Explor app from the AngelHack hackathon I did last year.

 

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Some sketchy sketches of possible app interactions

 

He’s given me career advice, he’s shown me specific techniques, and he’s broadened my horizons beyond just pure UX.

For instance, I previously rolled my eyes at marketing. I sort of felt like it was UX but without the cool tech and research aspects. Mark suggested I read On Brand by Wally Olins, and boom. I am now filled with respect for the discipline of marketing.

Thanks Mark!

Giving Back

By the way, I won’t be as slick of a teacher as Mark, but if anyone reading this is just starting out in tech or UX and have a few questions or even just want someone to bounce design ideas off of, let me know! I’d love to have a mentee of my own.

It’s the circle of life!

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The sky’s the limit

I used to chuckle to myself when I heard Montana’s state slogan. Big Sky Country. Or maybe it was Saskatchewan. Sky? Boring! Who cares? Alberta has the mountains.

But now I think I’m starting to get it.

I recently returned to Calgary, a year and a half after moving away. The first thing that struck me was the sky.

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Wow! So much space.

There was something really nice about that.

In London, I sometimes feel like I’m in a forest.

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Even when the buildings aren’t especially tall, they’re shoved close together, turning the streets into tunnels.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love it here. I love buildings and energy and people. But it can start to get quietly claustrophobic over time.

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There are obviously lots of beautiful respites where people bask in the openness,

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…but the sky here still has nothing on Saskatchewan or Montana. Or even on Alberta for that matter.

Interviewing a UX Role Model

I’ve really enjoyed blogging over the last year or two but I wanted to shake up the format of my posts, so I decided to try to do an interview.

The target

Jason Grant. His experience includes:

  • Founding UX Coach
  • Starting the Design Thinking for Business Facebook group, where 500+ members share and discuss everything Design and UX.
  • Doing UX-related work with American Express, Ebay, Disney, and many more.

The ask

I eventually worked up my courage and messaged Jason, hoping to hear back within a couple days then schedule something within a couple weeks.

Less than an hour later, I get this reply.

Sure. I’m all up for it.

I was ecstatic. Just one thing…

The catch

Jason suggested live streaming it to YouTube!

I’m a bit camera shy and I’d never done live video before, so I decided to do it… That same day.

The chat

I’m glad I did. Jason happily answered all the questions I asked him and he gave a lot of great advice. Check out the full video here.

The notes

Here are my highlights.

2:45- Correlation between design thinking and success among large companies.

5:30- Difference between UX and Design Thinking

The five stages of Design Thinking

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

18:45- If he had to pick a favorite stage, it would be Empathize.

Building things and designing things without human insight is pointless. And I don’t want to do pointless things.

20:05- techniques for gaining empathy, including conversations and interviews, ethnographic research. Can depend on how busy users are.

25:00- Transforming the UX culture of large organizations

Design thinking workshop with executives. Talk about their problems and opportunities then facilitate ways to address these. Show them how powerful it can be!

29:15- Jason’s career history.

35:55- Advice to his former self. Some really good stuff in there.

I know much more than I give myself credit for… I need to step up to the plate much more… The majority of my life I spent assuming that other people know more than me and [they have] more valuable experiences.

39:25- How he got into speaking
– never say no to an opportunity

Even if you do a terrible speech… you will learn.

45:45- General career advice
-Design yourself as much as you design the things you’re creating
-Keep a log of what you’ve done. Take pictures, document it, blog about it.

Want more?

If you’re interested in learning more about UX and Design Thinking, check out the Design Thinking for Business Facebook group!

My top 5 pearls of wisdom from Elon Musk’s biography

I just finished Elon Musk’s biography and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d highly recommend it- it’s both entertaining and informative. Here’s some of what I got out of it.

1) Doing everything fast

One of the funniest quotes in the book came from Kevin Brogan, who’s now named Brogan BamBrogan (seriously.)

Everything he does is fast. He pees fast. It’s like a fire hose—three seconds and out. He’s authentically in a hurry.

Seriously though, Elon Musk is an insanely talented, hard-working man. He doesn’t dabble. He’s all in. The more time spent dealing with those pesky basic human needs, the less time remains for changing the world.

2) The standard way of doing things

I absolutely can’t stand it when I’m doing a code review, I ask why someone’s taken a strange approach, and they say “That’s the way it’s always been done.” Now I know consistency in a codebase is important, but sometimes you have to think for yourself and do a little refactoring.

Here’s what a former employee said about Musk.

If you told him that you made a particular choice because ‘it was the standard way things had always been done,’ he’d kick you out of a meeting fast.

3) Overnight successes don’t really exist.

I picked up this book because I had been hearing so much about this Tesla guy all of the sudden. Maybe I’m the only one living under a rock, but he seemed to come out of nowhere and turn the automotive industry on its head. Turns out he went through a hell of a lot before becoming the “Tesla guy”.

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What? This guy didn’t just go to sleep as an average Joe and wake up having founded multiple world-changing companies?

The Frequency Illusion: How I learned that “Funner” isn’t a word

The Frequency Illusion, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, describes how people who just learn or notice something start seeing it everywhere. It’s like the time when, as a youngster, I read an Archie comic where Jughead pointed out that “funner” isn’t a word. That was news to me! But then I heard that same “news” repeatedly in the next few weeks- at school, on TV, and more.

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Thanks for the grammar lesson, Archie!

Anyway, back to Elon Musk. The fact that I suddenly started hearing about him everywhere doesn’t mean that he just suddenly because famous and successful; more likely I just heard something about him that stuck and then I became more likely to notice mentions of him.

4) The power of persuasion

Musk is a brilliant motivator. It’s so much more powerful to challenge people to challenge themselves than it is to just demand things from them.

Here’s how Brogan described Musk’s management style.

He doesn’t say, ‘You have to do this by Friday at two P.M.,’ He says, ‘I need the impossible done by Friday at two P.M. Can you do it?’ Then, when you say yes, you are not working hard because he told you to. You’re working hard for yourself. It’s a distinction you can feel. You have signed up to do your own work.

5) Acronyms Seriously Suck

At my first few grown-up jobs, I remember being really intimidated by all of the jargon and acronyms that were used. (Until, of course, I started using the terms, thus perpetuating the cycle of acronyms…) I really hate acronyms.

Apparently so does Elon Musk. Below are some of my favorite parts from his infamous 2010 SpaceX email on acronyms.

Excessive use of made up acronyms is a significant impediment to communication…

No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don’t want to seem dumb in a meeting, so they just sit there in ignorance. This is particularly tough on new employees

The key test for an acronym is to ask whether it helps or hurts communication.

Comments?

If you’ve read the book or enjoyed this article, let me know what you think on Twitter!

Seeking ‘click moments’ in a random world

I recently read an article about the Flâneur Approach to UX. Essentially, it said that great designers find time to wander while observing their surroundings. That article really resonated with me, because I love exploring. For example, over the last six months, I’ve never taken the same route twice on my London cycling commute.

The article also mentioned a book called The Click Moment by Frans Johansson, so I decided to listen to that audiobook.

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The Click Moment really resonated with me as well! It has a relatively simple message but drives the point home through dozens of real-world stories. Here are my key takeaways.

The world is random

The author recalled several classic stories of hard work and dedication leading to incredible success. For example, Serena and Venus Williams lived and breathed tennis for their whole lives and ended up being the clear leaders in that sport. Another example is chess prodigies. These are the classic “10,000 hour” experts that Malcolm Gladwell detailed in Outliers.

The problem is that these fields (where hard work equals success) are rarities because they tend to be areas where the rules change very slowly if at all. The real world is much more random and unpredictable.

This can feel discouraging (“If I can’t be guaranteed success after paying my dues, what’s the point?”) but it’s possible to use this to your advantage. It’s possible to expose yourself to lots of potential “click moments”, or opportunities, and thus be more likely to succeed.

How?

Don’t be a one-trick pony

I sometimes feel guilty for learning French, having fun, or traveling when I could be spending time working on a UX or programming project. Turns out I shouldn’t! I guess I knew this all along, but the book really made it clear to me. It’s not just good for your mental health to take a break every now and then, but it opens you up to serendipitous moments when you vary your experiences.

Johansson talks about Intersectional Thinking. Many innovations come from the collision of two completely different fields. It’s impossible to take advantage of intersectional thinking if you’re only focused on one thing.

Going forward, I’ll continue to pursue some interests as far away from tech as possible. And I won’t feel guilty about it!

But curiosity isn’t enough. You have to…

Act on your curiosity

Obviously, you won’t see any results if you don’t act on your curiosity. A lot of Johansson’s points in this area reminded me of the concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), which was discussed in depth in The Lean Startup.

It’s far better to throw several things at the world and see what sticks than to carefully craft one ‘perfect’ thing and desperately hope that it catches on.

Going forward, I’m going to strive for shorter iterations on my side projects, soliciting feedback from users and stakeholders far more often, even if I’m worried that it’s not perfect (because it never is perfect).

But quick actions and short iterations can be easier said than done unless you…

Follow your passion

Sometimes a cliché can be repeated so often that it loses its meaning entirely. “Following your passion” is one such cliché. The Click Moment reminded me of the importance of doing things that are really fulfilling and meaningful.

Like the gambler who wins on his first bet, success can happen early thanks to the randomness of the world. Unfortunately, it can also take years and years. Passion is the ability to keep trying, to keep iterating, in the face of failure.

If you don’t have passion and you don’t have beginner’s luck, you’re not going to succeed.

The bottom line

To me, The Click Moment didn’t have a great deal of shocking insights, but it did explain a lot of seemingly counter-intuitive ‘gut feelings’ that I had. In other words, it didn’t change any of my mental models, but it did help me make sense of them.

Johansson drove the points home with a handful of very interesting real-world anecdotes.

I’d definitely recommend reading this book.

What did you think?

Have you read The Click Moment? Let me know!

Building a Software Craftsmanship Community at Work

Last night I went to a meetup run by my favorite meetup group, the London Software Craftsmanship Community, or LSCC.

The best part? There was cake!

The second best part? I had a bit of an epiphany when it comes to community building. More on that later.

LSCC Background

I learned last night that this group was co-founded by Sandro Manusco six years ago (hence the cake), who also co-founded Codurance. Interestingly, this was the first LSCC meetup actually hosted at Codurance in the history of the group. Also, it was the first time that I’ve met Sandro in the dozen or so sessions I’ve been to.

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Sandro introducing the session

LSCC has a great variety of meetups, including talks, pair programming nights, and hands-on workshops.

An Open Space Event

The format of this particular session was Open Space, where the participants come up with the content. On a whim, I decided to propose a discussion about something that has been on my mind recently: How do I build a sustainable community of software craftsmanship at my company?

I was wondering this because optional lunch and learns were introduced at work this spring. Initially, there were lots of people running and attending these talks, but recently they’ve dwindled a bit and I’m the only one who is still planning sessions.

The Group Discussion

Luckily, there were many people who were interested in discussing that topic, as well as a similar topic, the relationship between employees and management. There was a great discussion, but it focused more on the other topic. Before I knew it, the time was up and my question wasn’t quite answered.

The Advice

Three people noticed this and approached me afterwards. They had all experienced similar problems and gave me piles of advice. My head was spinning with all the great ideas they were throwing around, so I’ll probably miss some, but I’d sum them up as follows.

1) Shared Ownership

The community shouldn’t feel like it’s just one person’s baby. It shouldn’t just rely on one person to keep it afloat. Start it then fade into the background.

2) Regularity

They don’t need to be every week, but they should be some sort of discernible pattern. Don’t randomly scatter sessions. People will be more likely to remember to come if it’s every other Wednesday than if it’s just two random days per month.

3) Variety

If your lightning talk sessions are falling flat, try pair programming on some kata. Or perhaps showing some videos. Or a book club.

4) Levity

Don’t take yourselves too seriously. This isn’t work. It shouldn’t feel like work. Have fun.

5) Openness and Support

Welcome everyone with open arms. Support each other.

The Epiphany

While cycling home, it hit me. It seems so obvious now, but this is exactly how LSCC is run.

  1. Shared Ownership: Sandro may have co-founded it but there’s now a dedicated army of other organizers who keep it going and thriving.
  2. Regularity: There are very regular sessions- this open space session, for example, is a monthly one.
  3. Variety: As I mentioned before, there’s lots of different sessions.
  4. Levity: And there’s definitely lots of joking around (by the way, is Java dead?).
  5. Openness and Support: I worried at first that I didn’t belong to this group, but was welcomed so quickly that I completely forgot that. The support I felt yesterday by the people who took the time to approach me after the group discussion was awesome.

In short, what I need to do at work in order to build a culture of software quality is to be more like LSCC.

Further reading

A couple resources were mentioned with regards to this topic. I hope to check these out soon!

Get in touch!

Questions? Comments? Typos? Lies? Tweet me at sgryzko!

 

Communicating the Value of User Research

I recently came across a great guide to communicating the value of user research to stakeholders.

It seems to be written more for UX designers brought in on a contract or agency basis to help clients “do UX”. However, as a permanent developer who’s trying to “do UX” on the side, most of the points have rung just as true for me, if not more so.

It can be an uphill battle trying to justify the investment required for User Research, but by keeping things simple (keeping costs low) and clearly communicating the benefit of the research, progress can be made.

This was originally posted by Frauke Seewald on the Toptal blog, but they’ve given me permission to repost it here. Enjoy!


The beginning of a new project: Your client needs help with a redesign of its website or application.

“We want to improve the user experience, it has to be jaw-dropping for our customers, we want them to fall in love with our product.”

Here is the good news: Your client is aware of User Experience (UX), cares about customers’ needs and sees the value in investing in a great user experience. They asked for an expert with UX skills to help, but do theyreally understand what it means to deliver an exceptional user experience?

User research is a vital component of UX design. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

User research is a vital component of UX design. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

UX is more than a bunch of rules and heuristics that you follow in your product design process. UX is subjective, as the name suggests. It is the (subjective) experience that a user gets while using a product. Therefore, we have to understand the needs and goals of potential users (and those are unique for each product), their tasks, and context.

As a UX expert you should already be familiar with the maxim, It all starts with knowing the user.

Now for some bad news; this is the point when you discover your client’s misconceptions about UX.

UX expert: “Ok, let’s start with your users: Who are they? What do they do? What do they want? What are some of their pain points? I would like to talk to them, observe them, learn from them…”

Client: “Oh, we don’t need user research, that’s a waste of time.”

Wrong!

In this post I will try to explain why, and hopefully, help fellow UX specialists in their efforts to convince clients that good UX is next to impossible if it is not preceded by good user research.

No Need For User Research? There Is Always A Need For User Research

You cannot create a great user experience if you don’t know your users or their needs.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Don’t simply accept the common argument that there is no time or money to do any user research for your project.

User research should shape your product design and define guidelines that will enable you to make the right UX decisions.

User research should shape your product design and define guidelines that will enable you to make the right UX decisions.

User research will shape your product; it will define the guidelines for creating a product with a good experience. Not spending any time on research, and basing all of your design decisions on best guesses and assumptions, puts you at risk of not meeting your user needs.

This is how senior UX architect Jim Ross UXmatters sees it:

“Creating something without knowing users and their needs is a huge risk that often leads to a poorly designed solution and, ultimately, results in far higher costs and sometimes negative consequences.”

Lack Of User Research Can Lead To Negative Consequences

Skipping user research will often result in “featurities,” decisions that are driven by technical possibilities and not filtered by user goals.

“My wife would really enjoy this feature! Oh, and I heard from this person that they would like to be able to xyz, so let’s add it in there too.”

This leads to things such as overly complex dashboards in cars, where the user’s focus should be on driving, not on figuring out how to navigate an elaborate infotainment system.

Many users find automotive infotainment systems overly complex and distracting. Identifying the target audience is crucial to good UX design.

Many users find automotive infotainment systems overly complex and distracting. Identifying the target audience is crucial to good UX design.

Tesla’s cutting edge infotainment system, based on Nvidia Tegra hardware, employs two oversized displays, one of which replaces traditional dials, while the other one replaces the center console. Yes, it looks good, but it was designed with tech savvy users in mind. In other words, geeks will love it, but it’s clearly not for everyone. It works for Tesla and its target audience, but don’t expect to see such solutions in low-cost vehicles designed with different people in mind.

Poorly designed remote controls are not intuitive, so casual users tend find them overwhelming, resulting in a frustrating user experience.

Old remote controls are another example of hit and miss UX. There is little in the way of standardization, so each one takes time getting used to.

Old remote controls are another example of hit and miss UX. There is little in the way of standardization, so each one takes time getting used to.

But what about the purely digital user experience? Too many fields in a form, or too much information may overwhelm and drive your users away.

Poorly designed digital interfaces can drive users away. Even if they don’t, they will annoy users and feel like a waste time.

Poorly designed digital interfaces can drive users away. Even if they don’t, they will annoy users and feel like a waste time.

Instead of creating the opposite behaviour, poorly designed and implemented interfaces are more likely to scare off potential users.

Start User Research With Sources For Existing Information

Yes, user research will expand the timeline and it won’t come cheap, but both time and costs can be minimized. You can start with existing, and easy accessible, sources of information about user behaviour to gain a better understanding of user needs. These are:

  • Data Analytics
  • User Reviews and Ratings
  • Customer Support
  • Market Research
  • Usability Testing

Quality user research requires time and resources. However, you can start by using existing information to get a sense of what your users need.

Quality user research requires time and resources. However, you can start by using existing information to get a sense of what your users need.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these sources.

Data Analytics

If you are working with an existing product, your client might have some data and insights about its use. Data analytics assist with getting a good overview about general usage: How many visitors are coming to the website, what pages are most visited, where do visitors come from, when do they leave, how much time do they spend where, and so on.

But here is what this data is not telling you: How does the experience feel? What do users think about your service, and why are they spending time on your website? Why do they leave?

For example, your data indicates that users are spending a lot of time on a specific page. What it doesn’t tell you is why. It might be because the content is so interesting, which means users found what they were looking for. On the other hand, it could be an indication that users are looking for something they cannot find.

Data Analytics is a good starting point, but it needs further qualitative data to support the interpretation of the statistics.

User Reviews And Ratings

Your client’s product might have received some user feedback, already. There might be a section for feedback or ratings on the website itself, but external sources may be available as well. People might have talked about it in blog posts or discussion boards, users may have given app reviews in an app store. Check different sources to see what users are saying.

However, be aware of limitations. People tend to leave reviews and ratings about negative experiences. Don’t take this as a reason to shy away from user reviews or to ignore feedback!

“All these complainers… These aren’t the users we want, anyway!”

Instead, try to look for patterns and repetitive comments. Here are a few tips for making the most from user input:

  • Check whether any action has been taken on negative comments.
  • Compare the timing of negative comments to releases and changelogs. Even great apps can suffer from poor updates, leading to a lot of negative comments in the days following the update.
  • Do your best to weed out baseless comments posted by trolls.
  • What are users saying about the competition? Identify positive and negative differentiators.
  • Don’t place too much trust in “professional and independent” reviews because they can be anything but professional and independent.

User reviews are a good source for collecting information on recurrent problems and frustrations, but they won’t give you an entirely objective view of what users think about your product.

Your client might have a customer support hotline or salespeople who are in touch with the user base. This is a good resource to get a better understanding of what customers are struggling with, what kind of questions they have, what features/functionality they are missing.

Setting up a couple of quick interviews with call center agents, and even shadowing some of their calls, will allow you to collect helpful data without investing too much time or money.

Customer support provides you with a good opportunity to learn about potential areas for improvement, but you will have to dive in deeper to get detailed information about problems.

Market Research

Your client may have some basic information about the customer base, such as accurate demographic information, or a good understanding of different market segments. This information is valuable to understand some of the factors behind the buying decision.

It does not offer any information about the usage of the product, though.

Market research is a good source of information if you need a better understanding of how your client thinks, what their marketing goals are, and what their market looks like. However, it won’t reveal all relevant details about user goals or needs.

Usability Testing

If you are lucky, your client might have done some usability tests and gained insights about what users like or dislike about the product. This data will help you understand how people are using the product and what the current experience looks like.

It is not quantitative research, and therefore you won’t get any numbers and statistics, but it helps you identify major problems, and gives you a better understanding about how your user group thinks.

There is also the option to do some quick remote testing session by using services such as usertesting.com.

Usability tests are another good way of identifying key problem areas in a product.

How To Educate Your Client About The Value Of User Research

The budget might be small and the timeline tight, but ignoring user research will eventually bite you. Help your clients avoid pitfalls by making them aware of the benefits of user research.

What’s the ROI of good user experience? Knowledgeable UX experts must be able to communicate the value of user research to clients.

What’s the ROI of good user experience? Knowledgeable UX experts must be able to communicate the value of user research to clients.

Here are some common arguments against user research and how to deal with them:

  • We don’t need user research. We trust in your skills as a UX expert

As a UX designer, you need to view user research as part of your toolkit, just like a hammer or saw for a craftsman. It helps you to apply your expertise in practice. No matter how much expertise you have as a designer, there is no generic solution for every problem. The solutions always depend on the user group and the environment, so they need to be defined and understood for every product.

User research will help get an unbiased view, to learn about users’ natural language, their knowledge and mental models, their life context.

You are the UX design expert, but you are not the user.

  • Just use best practices instead of research

Best practices originate from design decisions in a specific context; the digital industry is evolving at a rapid pace, design trends and recommendations change constantly, there is no fixed book of rules. We need to be able to adjust and adapt. Those decision should be made based on research, not practices employed by others, on different projects.

  • We already know everything about our users

Invite your client to a user needs discovery session to observe how users are using the product. Start with small tests and use remote usability testing tools such as usertesting.com to get some quick insights and videos of users in action.

The outcome might be a user journey map or a user task flow. Aim for a visualized document that identifies outstanding questions so you can define areas that need more research.

  • We have personas, we don’t need more research

Personas are a good tool for making your target group more tangible, and for becoming aware of different needs, key task flows and and how that might vary for different groups. It’s the common ground and a good starting point.

However, to redesign a product you need a better understanding of the usage. You need to know how people work with your product, what they do with it, when they get frustrated.

Ask for further details about user stories and task flows to make use of personas.

  • We don’t have the budget for it

The above list of sources for information about user behaviour should give you a good starting point for sharing ideas with your client on how to gain user information on a (very) tight budget.

Make your client aware of the risks if product design decisions are made without a good understanding of the user.

User Research Is The Basis Of Every Good User Experience

User experience is still a bit of a “mystery” in many circles: Everybody talks about it yet it is hard to define, as a good experience is in the eye of every user.

It is, therefore, key to gaining a sound understanding of the context, the user goals, and the thinking necessary for designing a truly exceptional user experience.

The more transparent you are with your work process, the better your client will understand your tools and the information you need to make good decisions.

While some clients may not be open to the idea of using additional resources on research, it’s necessary for experience specialists to explain the value of user research, and to argue for further research when necessary. To accomplish this, UX designers will require negotiating skills to make their case.

Luckily, proper user research is beneficial to clients and UX designers, so convincing clients to divert more resources towards research should be feasible in most situations. Reluctant clients may be swayed if you manage to devise a cost-effective user-research method, and I hope some of the tips and resources in this article will help boost user research, even if money is tight.

Lessons Learned from my Job Search

Update (January 11th, 2016): I’m proud to say that this article was featured on the wonderful Zealify blog. Check them out for great job search tips, career advice, startup jobs, and more!


 

Nearly two months after leaving my job in Canada, I’ve officially accepted a job offer. I’m delighted to have signed on with Wall Street Systems to work on their IT2 treasury management software with, judging by my first few visits, an extremely talented, agile, and welcoming development team.

I had a great time at my interview and they seemed to like me despite my incessant asking of questions. Anyway, here’s what I learned in my job search.

The Numbers

  • 23 Jobs Applied to (Effort ranging from tailoring cheeky but professional cover letters- see below- to simply submitting my CV)
  • 8 Companies Responded (ranging from just a coding test to several stages of in-person interviews)
  • 1 Promising Application Withdrawn (I withdrew after a great final interview before they could make an offer)
  • 1 Job Offer (Accepted!)

Lesson One: Don’t Get Discouraged

I went through varying ups and downs that included several bouts of impostor syndrome– There were times that I started to doubt that I could bring value to any company. Fifteen different companies that I applied to didn’t even respond. On the flip side, though, over 33% of the jobs that I applied to DID respond, which seems to be much better than average (20%? 2%?). This type of thinking tended to help me during the downs.

Bottom line: Keep your head up and focus on the positives! Good things will come.

Lesson Two: A Little “Hustle” Goes a Long Way

A little bit of creativity can pay off hugely. Inspired by Zealify’s Career Hustlers Series, I decided to craft a personalized, tailored SwiftKey cover letter, complete with the SwiftKey-themed signature (see tweet below) and online stalking of the company’s HR team to learn about them personally.

I also got a great response from my “cheeky” cover letter for LShift that took the form of their “People” page.

About Page- Me Only-revised

Despite probably being a little under-qualified for the jobs that I applied for using those creative cover letters, I managed to land interviews with both companies. Neither ended up in a job offer, but both led to some great connections in the London tech scene.

Lesson Three: Work with Recruiters

There are lots of opportunities out there, so why not let recruiters help you find them? Recruiters sometimes get a bad rap, but remember that their job is to get you a job, so don’t be afraid of them!

Obviously, take what they say with a grain of salt and keep in mind that their main goal is to get you a job as quick as possible, not necessarily to get you your dream job, but they really can help. I particularly enjoyed working with Chris Curtis at FunctionalWorks and Kelly McCarthy at Huxley. Both put effort into getting to know me in order to help me find a great job.

Lesson Four: Trello is Awesome for Tracking Opportunities

My approach to the job search really evolved over time, but I couldn’t have done it without my beloved Trello board. Inspired by this post, I custom-made a board for my needs.

Keys to my approach were:

  • Dump all job-related information in one place. Someone mentions a job site I should check out? I quickly put it in Trello even if I don’t have time to check it out right now.
  • Send-to-Trello bookmarklet. Super handy for quickly adding jobs to my “To Apply” list

See below for a screenshot of the “jobs funnel”. The different colors on each card are because I used Trello’s tags to keep track of which of my criteria each job satisfied (for example, “Some, but not all C++”, “Intermediate Seniority”, and “Strong Development and UX Practices”).

Trello Job Board Job Funnel

Lesson Five: Trello is Awesome for Continuous Improvement

As always, incremental improvement can lead to huge gains. To take advantage of this, I tried to split my job-related tasks into bite-sized chunks like “Improve About Me Page on Website” and “Create a Slick Email Signature”. That way, when I had a free couple hours, I could pick one of my tasks and get it done. See below for the task-related section of my Trello board. Also shown is a list of job boards to keep an eye on, as well as the aforementioned job criteria.

Trello Job Board Tasks, Boards, and Criteria

Conclusion

The job search was a lot of work but it was worth it! I’m very excited to be working at Wall Street Systems and I expect to add a lot of value but also learn a lot there.

As an added bonus, their offices are in one of London’s most iconic buildings, 30 St Mary Axe (aka The Gherkin). In fact, before my interview, I just couldn’t resist sneaking a photo before heading in!

Picture I took of myself before my interview at The Gherkin

#PreInterviewSelfie #WorkinAtTheGherkin #SuitAndTieAndBackpack

Wish me luck!

Connecting Strava and Google Sheets using IFTTT

Update (2016-06-19)

As of May 2016, IFTTT officially started supporting Strava, so for most people, instead of following the instructions in this article, I strongly recommend using this IFTTT recipe.

However, if you want to get at more-detailed Strava data such as moving time and elevation, I’m told that this is the only way. Happy riding!



Last year (2014) I made a goal of cycling or running to work at least 100 times. I ended up doing 172!

This year, I moved from Canada to London, but not before doing over 252 commutes! (Note: I stretched the definition of commute to include any time I saved at least 5km of driving or transit)

I won’t reach 300 this year (my original goal) but instead of going sans goal until 2016 (I am very motivated by goals, even if they are completely arbitrary), I decided to set a new goal.

Cycle 1000km on my “new” bike before the end of the year.

So I made a quick chart in Excel.

newgoal excel

But then I realized that this would be a great opportunity for some tinkering. You see, the Excel chart above requires the dreaded MANUAL DATA ENTRY. If there was a way for me to use my beloved Strava to automatically update a similar chart, I’d be set.

So I tried to plug into the Strava API. But then got a little overwhelmed when it started asking me about authorization codes and application names.

I then went to my favorite “automate everything” site, IFTTT. While they don’t support Strava directly, they do support RSS feeds, and FeedMyRide allows you to create an RSS feed from your Strava activities. IFTTT allowed me to easily create a recipe for hooking up RSS to Google Sheets.

Add in some parsing, some array formulas, and a nice chart et voila: As you can see here, I now have automatic updating of my progress toward my goal!

1000km complete!

I’m a little behind on my goal as I write this(November 24), so stay tuned to see if I manage to catch up!

Update (01/03/2016)

I did it! I ran into a few hiccups along the way, such as four (mostly) unrelated flat tires in two days, an unexpected house move closer to work, and a cold/flu that lingered for a couple weeks, but my mileage at midnight on December 31st, 2015 was 1011.9km*.

mission accomplished!

Mission Accomplished! Me celebrating hitting the 1000km mark on a sunny New Years Eve day at Tower Bridge

*One little disclaimer: I had to cheat a little by including the approximately 50km I cycled in Copenhagen while on vacation there, so technically my new bike’s 2016 mileage was just under 1000km.

Anyway, I found it a very powerful motivator to have my goal out in public for all to see (even though, if we’re being honest, I’d be surprised if more than two people saw said goal). Also, I really enjoyed trying to keep the blue line above the red line in real time. And I absolutely loved exploring the sights of London. I may not keep up the pace of 500 km per month in 2016 but I can see myself continuing to cycle to work most days.

Screenshot from the entrepreneur first application video I made

Application Video- Entrepreneur First Program

The Program

Entrepreneur First is a program that operates under the theory that if you take a bunch of talented individuals, offer them mentoring and guidance and a small stipend to live off of, they will end up creating brilliant businesses. It appears that their theory is working quite well.

“To date, our founders have built companies with a total valuation of $250m…”

The Application

Naturally, I wanted in. Entrepreneur First has quite a lengthy application process. The first step is a questionnaire. Fortunately, they liked my questionnaire enough that I was able to move onto the next stage. For the next step, I was asked to submit a video answering the following questions:

  1. Tell us a bit more about the most impressive technical thing you’ve built. Why do you think it’s impressive?
  2. Tell us about a time when you’ve been relentless to achieve something you wanted. How did you do this?
  3. What do you think you would like to work on at EF? What skills do you have to build this?

I was very happy with my video, which I created quite easily, just using iMovie for iPhone. Check it out below!

The Result

Sadly I wasn’t selected to proceed to the next round of the application process but I understand- I don’t have any entrepreneurial experience; not yet at least!

But I did enjoy learning about EF and creating this video and I think it really showcases my tenacity when it comes to making things happen.