The Three ITs of UX Growth

This post is #5 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


My journey

I used to be a developer. I read as much as I could about UX, then really tried to put those readings to use. There were a lot of successes, but these great UX ideas that everyone was raving about online didn’t always catch on as much as I expected them to.

So I started learning about UX Maturity models. I even compiled a list of models. And I embarked on a research project with the help of my mentor Meaghan, interviewing people about UX and scouring the internet for insights.

That research is still ongoing but I’d like to share a super high-level summary.

The Three ITs of UX Growth

When it comes to leveling up your UX game, there are really only three things you can do.

1) commIT

Some companies up their UX game thanks largely to the efforts of a single person. In fact, my employer Solium is one of them. Not too long ago, we were having problems improving the UX of our products. But then a developer decided to take things into his own hands. He did a prototype of a redesign for one of the company’s main products and showed it to the leadership team. They loved it and built a team around him. That app is being released to the first major wave of customers this week, as shown in the blog post below!

new participant experience

A recent Solium blog post announcing a redesign that started as a side project

Obviously this one developer wasn’t the only person who cared about UX in the company, but his commITment and results led to a tipping point within the company and some very positive changes.

2) waIT

UX is becoming more and more mainstream. From articles on Design Thinking in the Harvard Business Review to reports of enterprise software being rejected by clients due to bad UX, executives are more aware than ever of the value and practices of UX.

Picture a typical customer of an old-skool enterprise software application. Let’s call him Jon. Jon wakes up one day and with two taps on the CityMapper app, he finds the best train route to work. While on the train, he does some leisurely scrolling through Airbnb and books a place for his upcoming vacation. He’s feeling pretty good… until he gets to work and has to try to do his job using a hideous, mind-numbing interface originally developed for Windows 95.


One of these things is not like the other!

Don’t you think that Jon is going to eventually wonder why his work software can’t be a little more like the sweet apps on his phone?

He is.

So if you wait long enough, the executives at your company are probably eventually going to hear complaints about bad UX and be aware of how to fix them!

This is exactly what happened at a financial institution that I spoke with.

“[The change] came top down actually. It wasn’t grassroots. [Prompted by] reality… banks must find unique ways of differentiating or they won’t be able to continue existing for much longer.”

This bank is now undergoing huge UX growth and seeing great results because of it.

3) quIT

If you tried to do IT and you can’t waIT any longer, do what I did: quIT your current job and find a company, like Solium, that really values User Experience.


If you want to work for a company that values UX, go work for a company that values UX!

Obviously no company is perfect, but Solium has gone through its UX breakthrough, which means I can spend more time solving problems and less time trying to convince other people that they are really problems.

The talk

I know this isn’t anything groundbreaking or particularly interesting, but writing and speaking has always helped me clarify my thoughts. I’ll be speaking about this later this week at the Calgary UX meetup in a ten-minute Rapid Fire talk.

Do you agree that UX Growth boils down to these three things? If not, why?


The Hunt Statement

This post is #2 in a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve recently started researching how companies relate to UX Maturity.

Since that first post, I’ve been in brainstorming mode. I’ve been jotting down tons of questions, as well as a huge list of people that I might like to ask those questions to. At first it was exciting to get into writing all of the possibilities that were in my mind, but it quickly became a little overwhelming.

Narrowing things down

Enter my fearless mentor Meaghan. When we last sat down together, we had the goal of focusing my list of questions. But how?

The hunt statement

As Meaghan says, the hunt statement is your ‘north star’ that you align all of your research towards to keep your research focused. The format is a what followed by a why. Meaghan suggested filling in the blanks in the following way:

I want to learn ____________

So that I might ____________.

This is going to come in very handy, because I’m really quite curious.


Will ferrell meme: curious like a cat

While no one actually calls me Whiskeres, I’m also curious like a cat.

Just this week, when I tried Guerrilla User Research for the first time (in a work project), my research partner kept pointing out how long I was taking. I didn’t understand why he thought it was a problem- as long as the people I was talking to were happy to continue, why not keep asking questions?

But now I realize that some of my questions weren’t especially relevant to the problem that we were investigating. If we did have an explicit hunt statement for that study, we would have been on the same page I wouldn’t have been pulling on threads that my partner wasn’t interested in.

So for this UX Maturity Research project, I’m going to have a hunt statement to keep me in line.

My hunt statement

I want to learn how decision-makers at enterprise software companies understand what UX design is, and how it fits into the success of their business;

So that I might develop more effective approaches for increasing investment in UX and getting the company to move further along the scale of UX maturity.

Next steps

Using this hunt statement, I’m going to create an initial discussion guide, do a couple interviews this week, then refine the guide if necessary and continue the research from there!

Stay tuned for future updates 🙂

Kicking off a UX Research side project with my mentor Meaghan

This post is the first in what will be a series of posts about my UX research about UX Maturity. For all other posts, see my UX Maturity Research page.


I’ve long been obsessed with the concept of UX Maturity. Why do some companies rave about the power of User Experience Research and Design while other companies just don’t seem to get it?

Which is why, for at least the next 2 months, I’ll be conducting research on this topic.

How it began

I’ve had great mentors (and unofficial mentors) in the past, so when a friend tweeted about the Chic Geek mentorship program, I jumped at the opportunity.

The program is incredibly well-run. They match mentors with mentees based on a thorough questionnaire about goals, experience, and interests.

My match is Meaghan Nolan, a co-founder of the digital health company Mikata Health and a former lead designer at New York agency Moment. Needless to say I’m happy with my match!

But what do I want?

After I learned that Meaghan was going to be my mentor, the organizers asked me as the mentee to come up with a SMART goal. I really wasn’t sure what to shoot for, so I set a goal to set a goal. (Huh?!)

goal to set a goal.png

My waffly initial goal: To set a goal

Fast-forward to the first official mentorship meeting: When I sheepishly showed Meaghan my somewhat confusing goal, she immediately jumped into researcher mode. After just a few questions, she proposed a WAY better goal.

If you are interested in tech and UX research, why don’t you do UX-style research on tech?

Yes! Brilliant!

We eventually settled on the following:

  1. In order to learn more about UX maturity and UX research techniques, I will interview at least 5 people from different companies about UX maturity by April 1st, 2018.
  2. At that point, I will decide on a specific direction for future research.
  3. Throughout the process, I will blog at least twice a month about my process and progress.

They aren’t especially specific or measurable, but UX rarely ever is. The April 1st deadline is in place in order for me to get some broad initial research in before drilling down into something interesting or unanswered from that research.

Next steps

After this first meeting, Meaghan sent me some relevant links. One of which was a talk SHE GAVE at the Interaction17 conference on Design at Scale. What!? My mentor not only has worked with everything from startups to Fortune 500 companies, but she’s given a talk on design culture?! Amazing.

After I read through the rest of the materials that Meaghan sent, I’ll put together a rough research plan based on the IDEO Field Guide for Human-Centered Design.

Then of course I’ll actually start talking to people and post about it right here later this month! I can’t wait!

Want to talk?

Care to enlighten me on your personal journey through UX maturity? Let me know!

Duolingo is great, but…

I LOVE Duolingo. I can’t recommend it enough for people who want to start learning a new language.

Ever since I first tweeted about it back in 2015, I’ve been using it pretty much daily. First for a little bit of Spanish, and now for French and even a little bit of Vietnamese!

However, I have a few bones to pick, especially with some of the more recent changes, both as a user and as a UX professional.

Lingots vs. Gems

Back in the day, Duolingo used “lingots” to reward users for things like having a long streak of practicing, allowing them to “buy” things like extra lessons or even costumes for Duolingo’s owl mascot. This was consistent between the web application and the mobile app.

But sometime in 2017, the mobile app switched over from lingots to “gems”. I remember seeing a nice notification after that switch that explained to me why the change was made and what it meant to me. No harm done.

The weird thing: The web app didn’t switch over. I thought this might just be a temporary transition, but several months later and it still hasn’t. So one one device I have gems and on the other I have lingots.

The Shop on mobile: I have 3272 gems and I’ve wagered 50 gems on “Double or Nothing”.

The Shop on web: Even though it’s the same account, I have 2334 lingots and I haven’t made a “Double or Nothing” wager but I can for 5 lingots.

I really have trouble keeping track of the difference between the two. I wish I didn’t care about these fake internet points but when my 650+ day streak is riding on them, I can’t ignore them.

The fix

My suggestion to Duolingo: Follow Jakob Nielsen’s heuristic of “Consistency and standards”.

Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.

Choose one: gems or lingots. Then get rid of the other.

The Double-Tap Bug

It may be because my iPhone 6 is no spring chicken, but I’m regularly frustrated by the following behavior on Duolingo’s iPhone app.

On “listen then type” questions, when I tap the field to start typing, nothing seems to happen. So I tap again. The keyboard then appears (due to my first tap) then immediately disappears (due to my second tap). So I tap once more and all is well.

Confusing? Here’s a gif I made to illustrate it.

duolingo double tap bug.gif

The double-tap bug. Due to a delay in registering the first tap, the first two taps cancel each other out. The third one works though!

The bad thing is that this doesn’t seem to consistently happen. Sometimes when I tap the first time the keyboard immediately appears so there’s no problem. Sometimes I tap, then wait patiently for the keyboard to appear, resisting the urge to tap again, only to be staring at my screen for several seconds like an idiot, apparently because the app didn’t actually notice my first tap.

The fix

The problem seems to be that there’s a delay in registering the first tap, possibly due to the phone working hard to play the audio. I wonder if it’s possible to ignore a tap to close the keyboard if it happens immediately after the keyboard was opened.

Also, perhaps make the tappable area larger on these questions? That would prevent the “staring like an idiot” scenario above.

Condescending Messages

On the iOS app, after my first five questions of the day then again after about ten, I get a message. Instead of letting me continue on in my French flow, that damn owl pops up and gives me an infuriating pat on the head.

Yes, maybe when I start learning Japanese and am getting frustrated with the first few lessons, this might be a welcome ray of light. But not when I’ve devoured all the French content that Duolingo has to offer and I’m just reviewing a few old words. In that case, it’s just annoying.

The fix

As I said in my tweet, maybe these messages should just be for beginners. Or better yet, why not add a “Stop showing these messages” button to allow for opt-out?

But it’s not all bad!

With that being said, I still love Duolingo and will probably continue using it for years to come. And not all of their new stuff is bad.


I love Duolingo’s new stories feature, which seems to only be available on the web app under the “Labs” tab or at

These are short, enjoyable stories with words on screen and voices narrating, these are a great way for intermediate to advanced learners to get comfortable with how a language is spoken. They’re interactive to make sure you’re paying attention.

Duolingo’s story. It’s asking me which word means “to stay on the surface of the water”. It’s “flotte”!

And best of all, they’re entertaining. The stories usually have a nice little twist at the end.

The twist: The man that Rose was speaking to at the art gallery was Captain Black Beard himself!


Keep doing what you’re doing Duolingo!

For the gems vs. lingots, I’m guessing that either I’ve run into an edge-case bug or that there is some kind of constraint that I’m not aware of.

For the messages, I know that I’m now turning into an edge case. There are millions more beginners on your platform than people like me who have consumed all content for a given language, but still, with a couple of small changes, you can keep me preaching about how awesome you are without alienating your new customers at all!

For the stories, please make them mainstream! They’re such a great, entertaining way to learn!

Want to talk Duolingo with me? Find me on LinkedIn!

Talking to Mars

Lately I’ve been bingeing on WaitButWhy. From Artificial Intelligence to the history of everything, Tim Urban is an expert at carefully researching complex topics then crafting entertaining, easy-to-read, and informative posts on them.

The other day I read the article How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars. It was a great article about space, Mars, and Elon Musk, but what stuck with me was this little tidbit buried in Part 3 of the post:

Earth people and Mars people will be in close touch, emailing and texting and watching each other’s movies and TV shows (no phone calls or Skype convos though—because data transfer is limited by the speed of light, a message sent from one planet takes between three and 22 minutes to get to the other, depending on the planets’ locations)

As well as this footnote:

For 2–4 weeks of each 26-month planet location cycle, the sun is directly between the two planets, and they can’t communicate at all.

In other words, if Earthlings want to talk with those brave few people who head to Mars starting as early as 2024, there’s going to be some interesting challenges.

So how are we going to talk to Mars?

We won’t be able to FaceTime, but we will be able to do video messaging. Kind of like SnapChat but slower. Let’s call it SlowChat. It should be good at making it clear just how slow each message will be, because there’s a big difference between a 6-minute round-trip, a 44-minute round-trip, and a 2-4 week delay!

Inspired by Tim Urban, I’ll illustrate this with a bit of a story.

It’s the year 2030. I’m floating around in 38% gravity and I want to chat with my mom.


Okay, maybe Mars won’t be terraformed enough to have beaches and retirees by 2030, but we’ll definitely need to figure out ways to improve communication if we’re sending people up there!

What do you think? Tweet me your thoughts or post a comment below!

Match Debt: When your system and the real world don’t align

Twenty-two years ago, design legend Jakob Nielsen published 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design. These ten tips are just as relevant now as they were in the early days of the internet.

I consider them my ten commandments when it comes to designing software. In fact, this was the one and only thing that I displayed on my cubicle wall at my previous job.


My ten commandments (Forgive me father Nielsen, for I have sinned)

Anyway, the second heuristic on the list is:

Match between system and the real world

The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

In other words, you want to make your product come as close as possible to the mental models of your users. In a perfect world, all products would closely align with how customers actually think.


The heuristic “Match between system and the real world” means that your product should align closely with the mental models of your users

Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect world.

In reality, there’s always a gap between how the product represents things compared to how the user actually thinks about them.


In reality, there’s probably a gap between your product and the mental models of your users

Actually, it’s often quite a large gap.


There may be a significant gap between your product and the mental models of your users

At my previous job, an established financial software company, the RTFM test revealed a feature that caused a lot of support requests: user access control. After speaking with some customers, we noticed that they were using different words than we were. What the system referred to as Access Areas, they called Functions. Also, the interface for user access control wasn’t consistent with the rest of the system. Our customers were used to using Excel-like tables to configure and view things, but this feature had a series of listboxes and dropdowns that were much less familiar or flexible. For this feature, there was definitely a gap between our product and the mental models of our users.

The Match Debt

Having this gap is not a huge problem (users tend to “satisfice“, settling for “good enough” solutions instead of fully understanding all options), but it is a cost. A cost that shows up in customer support, bug fixes, and worse: lost sales. I call that cost the Match Debt, because much like technical debt, the decisions you make today can make future development more expensive, like paying interest on a loan.


The Match Debt is the size of the gap between the system and the real world; the bigger the gap, the more money you’re losing

For our user access system, the Match Debt showed up most visibly in the form of calls to our support team. It also meant that the feature was hard to maintain. It may also have led to lost sales, though that is much harder to mention.

There are really only two ways to pay off Match Debt.

Educating your users

Firstly, you can try to move the users mental models closer to the way the product works via customer training and documentation- let’s call this education.


Education attempts to move your users’ mental models closer to the way your product works

Our user access system had thorough, well-written documentation, which I’m sure helped some of our customers, but users don’t read!

Learning about your users

Alternatively, you can try to move the product’s design closer to how the users think. This can be done in many different ways, including researching your users, designing solutions to their problems, testing these solutions, and more. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s just call this User Experience, or UX.


UX attempts to change your product closer to your users’ mental models

This is what we did when we redesigned the user access system. The new design uses slightly more familiar language and presents it in a way that’s consistent with the rest of the product. It’s nowhere near perfect, but now the Match Debt is lower, meaning that we’ll probably have fewer support calls and slightly happier customers than before.

It’s not you, it’s me

Both education and UX do the trick in reducing Match Debt, but from a customer’s perspective, UX is a whole lot nicer because it means that the product is doing the work, as opposed to the customer having to do the work. UX puts the onus on the few people who develop the product instead of the many people who use the product.

UX is the product team telling the user “it’s not you, it’s me”, then actually doing something to fix “it”. Isn’t that the way it should be?

Sure, this is a gross oversimplification, but this is why I love UX so much. It pays off Match Debt by aligning the product (and in fact the whole organization) closer to the users’ mental models.

It’s hard work. But it’s worth it.

Quotes from Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal

I just finished reading Interviewing Users. It’s one that has been on my list for a long time, probably because I loved Steve Portigal’s Dollars to Donuts podcast. It did not disappoint.

It was a great read for me because I’ve done enough user research to have some experience to map to, but not so much that I knew everything in the book.

Here’s a collection of quotes from the book that I found valuable, organized by theme.

Preparing for interviews

Portigal first walks the reader through what to do before interviewing users.

“At the outset of a project, make the objectives your initial priority.”

Interview 6-8 stakeholders (yes, you interview the team even before you interview the users!) to see what they want to learn. Sift through the politics and agendas and try to get everyone on the same page as to what the objectives are. Find issues such as

“…hypotheses masquerading as facts, aspirations, and mass hallucinations… resolve those issues as tactfully as possible.”

Prepare a field guide but

“this is not a script. It reads very linearly, but it’s really just a tool to prepare to be flexible.”

Research scheduling

Once you’ve agreed on the objectives and recruited participants, schedule two interviews a day or so. But why not more?

“Quality work doesn’t come from being rushed, exhausted, harried, or overwhelmed. Interviewing is hard work. You need time between sessions to reflect.”

And while it’s tempting to save time or resources by using Skype or a phone call or getting users to come to you, go to where the users are.

How many people should go to each interview?

“I find the ideal size for the field team to be two people: one to lead the interview, and one to back up the other person.”

Documenting the interview


Prepare a shot list before interviews that lists the photos that you want to take.

“Even if you’re capturing imagery using video, still pictures are essential.”

“Even though they agree to the use of photography when they sign your release, let the interview settle in before you start taking pictures. You can verbally confirm that it’s okay before you take your first picture.”

Taking notes

Note taking is okay but no one writes fast enough to capture everything and

“you must maintain eye contact while writing.”

If taking notes, just write the facts. Not judgements. But if you must interpret,

“it’s easy to lose track of what you were told versus the conclusions you made, so take care in how you document the two.”

As soon as possible after each interview, write a top-of mind summary.

“Allow time for debriefing after each interview… The longer you wait, the less you will remember, and the more jumbled up the different interviews will become.”

Video or audio

Video or audio recording is the only way to capture everything the participant says.

“Keep your eyes and brain in interview mode until you are fully departed.”

“consider keeping your recording device on, even if it’s packed”

because of

“the “doorknob phenomenon,” where crucial information is revealed just as the [therapy] patient is about to depart.”

Interview technique

Portigal offers lots of tips about actually conducting the interview.

They’re the expert

“make it clear to the participant (and to yourself) that they are the expert and you are the novice.”

“Asking that person to play the teacher role not only reinforces the idea that she is the expert here, but it also can make it easier for her to articulate the details you are seeking.”

Invite honest criticism

“if you bring out a concept by saying, “Here’s something I’ve been working on…” you’re activating a natural social instinct that will diminish their comfort in being critical.”

Building rapport

Start with general (easy) questions to get them warmed up. It will feel awkward and uncomfortable but accept and break down the awkwardness by

“accepting, acknowledging, and appreciating her responses.”

“Try to construct each question as a follow-up to a previous answer.”

If you change topic, “signal your lane changes”.


Once you’ve built rapport, you will reach a tipping point from question/answer to question/story.

“Stories are where the richest insights lie, and your objective is to get to this point in every interview.”

Use their language

“build rapport by accepting the terms the participant was using rather than trying to demonstrate credibility.”

“Don’t correct her perceptions or terminology if the only outcome is “educating” her. Advocate for her, not for your product.”

The interview isn’t about you

“[Only] talk about yourself if doing so gives the other person permission to share something.”

To dodge questions asked by participants,

“Do the Interviewer Sidestep and turn the question back to them: “Is that important to you?” “What would you expect it to be?””

Question Types

Ask about sequence, quantity, examples. Ask for exceptions, lists, relationships. Clarify comments, language/ code words, and emotional cues. Ask them to teach, to compare, etc.

You want to know about their needs. But you can’t directly ask about their needs. So you ask them indirectly.

“There’s a difference between what you want to know and what you ask.”

On participatory design

“My aim with participatory design is to give people a different way to talk about needs, where the solutions stand as proxies for those needs.”

You don’t actually have to implement any of these designs.


“One way a novice interviewer tries to counteract nervousness is by preemptively filling the silence.”

“Ask your question and let it stand…. After she has given you an answer, continue to be silent.”

Improving as an interviewer

Practice interviewing. Even in daily life.

“Cultivate a style of interacting socially that emphasizes listening, reflecting back the other person’s comments, allowing for silence, and so on.”

Also, review your interview recordings with a critical eye like a football coach would review game tape.

“ask someone to come along to your interviews and get his feedback. Also ask for feedback from the rest of your field team.”

Other tips include teaching others to interview and even taking an improv class, because that will improve your abilities of thinking on your feet, accepting awkwardness, and “going with it”.


Analysis and synthesis

After you’ve finished all of your interviews, follow a procedure like this to squeeze as much learning as possible out of your research:

  1. Divide and conquer: “get your data in text form and divide it among the team.” Each team member reviews and summarizes one or more interviews.
  2. Summarize for the team: “The group should then reconvene and present each interview as a case study.”
  3. After all summaries, recap: “Discuss each interview briefly, and then create a sticky note that summarizes the key point of that interview.”
  4. Group findings: “create groupings. You may want to start with the categories from your topline and add to them.”
  5. Prepare the report: “the Presentation of Findings, which is the main research deliverable.”

User research and organizations

Interviewing is a good way to increase a company’s UX Maturity. It…

“starts to drive shifts in the organizational culture”

“position yourself in your organization so that interviewing customers is an integral part of how you work.”


“The most impact for the least effort comes from your colleagues joining you in the field.”

For organizations with high maturity, research informs design but also exposes

“new opportunities for teams to embrace a user-centered approach to their work.”


I really enjoyed this book and I’m sure I’ll continue to refer to it (and these notes) for years to come!

The RTFM Test

As your team improves its UX maturity, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by all of the possible ways that you can improve your product.

One good place to start is the RTFM test.

How to do the RTFM test

It’s simple. Ask your support team:

What area of the product gets the most support requests that don’t end up in bugs being logged?

In other words: Which areas does the support team most often find themselves telling the customers to RTFM (Read The Freakin’ Manual)?

Or worse: Are there any areas that the support team has to keep repeating itself because they’re not even covered by the manual?

That is where you start. That’s the lowest hanging fruit. Those are the usabugs. Fix those and you’ll free up your support team to deal with real bugs.

But how?

Now that you know which area of your product is the biggest RTFM offender, there are many ways you can improve it. Let’s turn to Jakob Nielsen’s classic Ten Usability Heuristics for inspiration. Specifically, number ten:

Help and documentation

Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

There’s a lot in there, so let’s break it down:


If at all possible, get rid of the freakin’ manual. “It is better if the system can be used without documentation.” This should be paired with user research such as usability tests to make sure you’re solving the real underlying issue.

For example, maybe the product uses a list of cryptic codes that the user must look up in the manual in order to understand what they mean. If so, provide that information on-screen instead.

Improve your documentation

If you can’t GROTFM, then follow Nielsen’s hints on how to improve your manual.

  • Provide easy-to-use search functionality
  • Center the documentation around user tasks, not system areas
  • Provide step-by-step instructions for accomplishing those tasks
  • Keep it short

As above, use user research to guide and validate your work on the documentation of your system.

Try it out!

It seems obvious in hindsight but before I redesigned the user access system at my previous company, I had dabbled with dozens of other ideas for improving the product. Sure, I was able to find lots of areas of the system that violated usability heuristics or clearly didn’t work as expected, but only when I discovered the RTFM test was I able to find something that was actually valuable to the business and to our users. The RTFM test allowed me to easily prioritize all those opportunities for improvement.

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.



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!


Organizing Documentation with Card Sorting

We use Confluence at work for internal documentation. It’s kind of like Wikipedia, but only us developers can see and edit it, and the articles are things like How to set up Server x, or How to Test y.

I love it because we previously used long email chains with the answer buried deep within, mixed with dusty old word documents locked into source control. Confluence feels so much more lightweight, nimble, and searchable.

The Problem

Unfortunately over time it’s become a bit of a mess. We have over a hundred pages but there’s not much rhyme or reason as to how to find them. Confluence does have a search function but, believe it or not, people still browse. Also, if you’re adding an article it’s hard to know where to put it.

The Solution

So I decided to run a card sort exercise with my coworkers. My goal was to understand how they thought about these topics then organize the articles in a way that matched that as close as possible.

I scheduled a lunch and learn, invited the whole development team, and…

(Almost) No One Showed Up


A photo taken at my first attempt at a card sort workshop

Just one of my coworkers and my manager came. I should know by now that now all developers are as into UX as I am 🙂

Luckily, my manager agreed that this was important enough to schedule in and make mandatory, so a couple weeks later, the workshop was on!

The Actual Workshop

I hadn’t run card sorts recently, so I brushed up on my basics. The two main rules that stuck out for me:

  1. Run with one person at a time
  2. Never make people sort more than 30-50 cards at a time

I broke both those rules. Because I only had a one-hour workshop, I had everyone do the sorting in three small teams instead of individually. Also, because we had 100 articles, I did the sort with all 100 of them.


Team Pink sorts away. See guys? UX can be fun!

After that workshop, each team ended up with several named groups with several cards each.

Analyzing and Testing the Results

I then used a template from Donna Spencer to analyze the results. I’d definitely recommend this template. It’s free and it did the trick.

Each team came up with remarkably similar groups. Based on those groups, I then came up with proposed categories and tested with a quick tree test using TreeJack from OptimalWorkshop.

Photo 2017-03-31, 2 57 27 PM-edited

My attempt at making sense of the card sort results. Paper still beats Excel sometimes.

Based on the tree test, one of the cards was clearly in the wrong category so I moved it. A couple of the others weren’t decisive so I added cross-links, effectively giving those articles two homes instead of just one.


I’m very happy I did this. It was nowhere near perfect but it definitely vastly improved the structure of our documentation, showed everyone which articles were available, and introduced card sorting to the team.

Next Time

If I had more time I probably would have done the sorts one-on-one with my teammates instead of doing everyone at once in teams.

I should have used a smaller representative sample of the articles instead of trying to sort them all.

In other words, I should have followed the basic rules of card sorts!

Oh well! You can’t learn the limits if you don’t go past them every now and then, right?!