Good advice for jumpstarting your UX Design career
I’ve often been asked how to get started in or grow in a UX career. I always recommend classes, books, and most importantly, practice. Work on real or hypothetical projects every day, in collaboration with others whenever possible. Nothing accelerates learning faster than the act of doing, directly observing others doing, and doing together.
I just came across Irene Au’s great response to this question:
"First, start where you are. Stop worrying about the skills or expertise that you don’t have. You already have a foundation and basket of skills to draw from. When you worry about not having the skills or knowledge you need, you lose confidence, which undermines your ability to learn and be effective."
"Second, the best way to learn is by doing. Get involved in projects that interest or inspire you. Maybe you will be lucky enough to engage in such projects that happen to also bring you income. If not, find the time to engage in such projects on your own time. Seek collaborators, or go on your own. Make stuff, design stuff. Invent projects for yourself to do that allow you to exercise your skills; you will learn a lot by practicing. You will learn even more by seeking feedback, from mentors and users. From the feedback, you will discover how you need to grow. In your desire to make your product better, you will orient your energy toward activities that will help you grow."
"Third, notice and follow what brings you joy and energy. If you are truly interested and passionate about the endeavors, your interests will guide you toward what you need to learn, and you will invest the time and energy into learning it. You will also build a portfolio/body of work that you can later show to potential clients or employers; the joy you bring to your work will shine through and you will be able to see yourself more clearly — and people you talk to about hiring you will see that too."
Lessons from Google’s market research to understand consumer’s cross-platform consumer behavior.
Change your traditional thinking to a holistic, cross platform one The vast majority of media interactions are screen-based, screen-based, and so marketing strategies should no longer be viewed as “digital” or “traditional”. Businesses should understand all of the ways that people consume media, particularly digital, and tailor strategies to each channel.
Create a continuous experience across devices The prevalence of sequential usage makes it imperative that businesses enable customers to save their progress between devices. Saved shopping carts, “signed-in” experiences or the ability to email progress to oneself helps keep consumers engaged, regardless of device used to get to you
Tailor for usage contexts Consumers turn to their devices in various contexts. Marketing and websites should reflect the needs of a consumer on a specific screen, and conversion goals should be adjusted to account for the inherent differences in each device
Search connects the experiences Consumers rely on search to connect their experiences across screens. Not only should brands give consumers the opportunity to find them with multi- device search campaigns, strategies such as keyword parity across devices can ensure consumers can find the brand when resuming their search
Defining A Growth Hacker: Three Common Characteristics
As Design Manager (and former lead UX designer) for LinkedIn’s growth team, I find this Techcrunch article by Aaron Ginn to be an excellent description of what it takes to be a successful growth hacker:
DATA Growth hackers have a passion for tracking and moving a metric. Rather than looking at metrics as strictly a reporting mechanism, they view both as inspiration for a better product through a process of theorizing and testing. These metrics can be anything from a sign up converstion rate to a viral coefficient.
CREATIVITY Growth hackers are creative problem solvers. They do not stop at data but build into new and unknown frontiers to find growth. Growth hackers operate across disciplines and functions, from UI/UX to metric decisions. The combination of both a creative and analytical mindset allows a growth hacker to have a cohesive and systematic picture of product.
CURIOSITY Growth hackers are constantly curious and have an insatiable desire to learn. This curiosity leads to a grasp of product and user experience way beyond the surface. They have a fascination with why visitors choose to be users and engage and why some products fall flat on their face. With today’s distracted users, growth hackers are habitually exploring to find new ways to push metrics up and to the right. “Growth hacking has a subtle message of ’what have you done for me today?’.
UI is important because it affects the feelings, the emotions, and the mood of your users. If the UI is wrong and the user feels like they can’t control your software, they literally won’t be happy and they’ll blame it on your software. If the UI is smart and things work the way the user expected them to work, they will be cheerful as they manage to accomplish small goals. Hey! I ripped a CD! It just worked! Nice software! Wooooooooooo!
To make people happy, you have to let them feel like they are in control of their environment. To do this, you need to correctly interpret their actions. The interface needs to behave in the way they are expecting it to behave.
Thus, the cardinal axiom of all user interface design:
A user interface is well-designed when the program behaves exactly how the user thought it would.
Insights from Marc Hedlund on why his personal finance startup, Wesabe, lost to Mint:
Mint focused on making the user do almost no work at all, by automatically editing and categorizing their data, reducing the number of fields in their signup form, and giving them immediate gratification as soon as they possibly could; we completely sucked at all of that. Instead, I prioritized trying to build tools that would eventually help people change their financial behavior for the better, which I believed required people to more closely work with and understand their data. My goals may have been (okay, were) noble, but in the end we didn’t help the people I wanted to since the product failed. I was focused on trying to make the usability of editing data as easy and functional as it could be; Mint was focused on making it so you never had to do that at all. Their approach completely kicked our approach’s ass. (To be defensive for just a moment, their data accuracy — how well they automatically edited — was really low, and anyone who looked deeply into their data at Mint, especially in the beginning, was shocked at how inaccurate it was. The point, though, is hardly anyone seems to have looked.) Full article here.
"It turns out, like most success stories, the answer was simplifying the service. Taking features out. Reducing the value proposition to a clear and simple use case. This was not done in a vacuum. This was done by releasing a less than perfect product to the market, finding a few customers who wanted a less than perfect product, and then listening carefully to those customers to get to the ideal product." - by Steven Diebold. Full article here.
"It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand that their "Brand" is the collective emotional response to their product or service. A brand is not a logo, and it’s certainly not a URL. Those things are the stimulus, while the brand is the response. It’s something out there, in the hearts and minds of the people you hope to sell to." - by Mike Troiano on Onstartups. Full article here.
A collection of opinions about Apple’s skeuomorphic UI design:
Skeuomorphism: The Opiate of the Peopleby @andymangold "Some people believe that skeuomorphism makes an interface easier to use, or more intuitive for the user, and I simply don’t buy that. But what hadn’t occurred to me is that it doesn’t matter if it actually does make it easier to use, all that matters is that it makes the average person think it’s easier to use. In reality, a user must take time to learn any interface, whether clad in faux leather or not. The skeuomorphism in iOS plainly tricks people that might otherwise walk away, convinced that they can’t learn something new, into putting in the time required to get acclimated to a new interface."
Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: the Ars Technica review by John Siracusa "In 2011, we’re far past the point where computer interfaces need to reference their forebearers in the physical world in order to be understandable (though it’s possible Apple thinks the familiarity of such designs is still an effective way to reduce intimidation, especially for novice users). At the same time, hardware and software have advanced to the point where there’s now ample "bandwidth" (to use Tog’s term) to support visual and functional nuances beyond the bare necessities."
The condescending UI by Paul Miller "My problem with many modern UIs is that they never get past the telling phase. They’re always dressing up their various functions with glows and bevels and curves, and in the process they somehow become overbearing to my senses. "Did you know you can click this? Don’t forget there’s a save button over here! Let me walk you to your control panel." Imagine a car that verbally explains all of its various knobs and levers the first time you get into the car. Wonderful, right? Now imagine that car explaining all of these various functions every single time you get in the car for the next five years, until you finally snap and drive it off a cliff."
Great article by Braden Kowitz on the value of polished UI. A few highlights:
Trust increases when we get the details right Customers judge online credibility by evaluating visual design, copywriting, and interactions. If trust matters to your business, then design details should matter too. Check out the academic literature on the topic of interface design and trust, or look into Stanford’s Web Crediblity Project.
Usability increases when we get the details right When we’re happy, using an interface feels like play. So when we get confused, we’re more likely to explore and find other paths to success. There’s a whole book on this topic: Emotional Design by Don Norman. Getting design details right can create positive emotional states that actually make products easier to use.
Batch up the work Filling one pothole won’t turn a bumpy street into a smooth one — you’ll barely notice the change! So here’s the trick: Batch up UI bugs into one sprint. If your team regularly holds a fix-it day to squash bugs, then piggyback on that habit and hold a design fix-it day. As a designer, you can do advance work like putting all the changes into a spreadsheet or bug tracker and prioritizing issues.
Polish as you go When a feature is 90% done from an engineering perspective, it can still feel about 10% done to a designer. Now I get excited about the functionality and celebrate that there’s only a bit of surface details to finish before the feature is perfect.
Avoid customization icebergs Custom UI requires more polish than the built-in version. If the team doesn’t have the time to polish custom UI, it’s often better to stick to the boring native controls that work.
1) Expert social proof – Approval from a credible expert, like a magazine or blogger, can have incredible digital influence. Example:
Visitors referred by a fashion magazine or blogger to designer fashion rentals online at Rent the Runway drive a 200% higher conversion rate than visitors driven by paid search.
2) Celebrity social proof – Up to 25% of U.S. TV commercials have used celebrities to great effect, but only a handful of web startups have to date. Example:
The most authentic (and cost-effective) celebrity social proof is unpaid. Forhome décor site One Kings Lane, a 2010 unpaid mention in Gwyneth Paltrow’s influential blog GOOP provided a 90% lift in daily sign-ups vs. the previous 4 days’ average. Celebrity use onTurntable.fm by Sir Mix-A-Lot and producerDiplo generated viral buzz, helping the company skyrocket to 140,000 active users in just 4 weeks.
3) User social proof – Direct TV marketers are masters at sharing user success stories. Example:
More than 61 million people visit Yelp (working on an upcoming IPO) each month to read user reviews. And reviews drive revenue; a recent HBS study showed that a 1-star increase in Yelp rating leads to 5-9%growth in sales.
4) Wisdom of the crowds social proof – Ray Kroc started using social proof in 1955 by hanging an “Over 1 Million Served” sign at the first McDonald’s. Highlighting popularity or large numbers of users implies “a million people can’t be wrong.”
Greentech company Opower uses social proof to help reduce electricity consumption. It works: Opower sees an 80% response rate to e-mails citing how a household’s use compares with the neighborhood, which has driven more than 500 million kilowatt hours of savings so far.
5) Wisdom of your friends social proof – Learning from friends thru the social web is likely the killer app of social proof in terms of 1:1 impact, and the potential to grow virally. Example:
People who see content from their friends on TripAdvisor contribute personal content to the site at 2x the rate of others, and are 20% more engaged than other users.
The Way We Teach Math, Sciences, and Languages Is Wrong
"If we learned our first language like we usually learn second languages, it might look like this. A young child says, “I am hungry.” The parent replies, “Wait! Before saying am, you first must learn to conjugate to be in all persons and number, in the indicative, imperative, and subjunctive moods, and in the past, perfect, and future tenses.” After a few months, or maybe weeks, of this teaching, the child would conclude that it has no aptitude for languages and become mute. And human culture would perish in a generation.”
"If we taught math or science like we normally teach languages…oh, wait, we do!"
This article sums up exactly how I believe math should be taught:
"A math curriculum that focused on real-life problems would still expose students to the abstract tools of mathematics, especially the manipulation of unknown quantities. But there is a world of difference between teaching “pure” math, with no context, and teaching relevant problems that will lead students to appreciate how a mathematical formula models and clarifies real-world situations."
"In math, what we need is “quantitative literacy,” the ability to make quantitative connections whenever life requires (as when we are confronted with conflicting medical test results but need to decide whether to undergo a further procedure) and “mathematical modeling,” the ability to move practically between everyday problems and mathematical formulations (as when we decide whether it is better to buy or lease a new car)."
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” - Steve Jobs [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]
Design is understanding how something works
“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.
Creativity is just connecting things
“When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”
Life experience makes you creative
“Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. [Wired, February 1996]
“I wish him the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.” [On Bill Gates, The New York Times, Jan. 12, 1997]
What money means
“You know, my main reaction to this money thing is that it’s humorous, all the attention to it, because it’s hardly the most insightful or valuable thing that’s happened to me.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.
What makes a company successful
“You’re missing it. This is not a one-man show. What’s reinvigorating this company is two things: One, there’s a lot of really talented people in this company who listened to the world tell them they were losers for a couple of years, and some of them were on the verge of starting to believe it themselves. But they’re not losers. What they didn’t have was a good set of coaches, a good plan. A good senior management team. But they have that now.” [BusinessWeek, May 25, 1998]
“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.”
Focus means saying no
“And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important. [BusinessWeek, Oct. 12, 2004]
What it means to die
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”
"The reference example of this is Apple, which has created amazing and differentiated products in huge pre-existing categories like computers, laptops, MP3 players, phones, etc., and only occasionally go for new product categories (like the Newton and iPad). When Apple picks an existing category, they can take something that’s OK but fragmented, and take it to an entirely new level on design- and they can do this without the risk that the market is zero."
Design Thinking is old school. Here comes Creative Intelligence.
"I am defining Creative Intelligence as the ability to frame problems in new ways and to make original solutions. You can have a low or high ability to frame and solve problems, but these two capacities are key and they can be learned. It is a sociological approach in which creativity emerges from group activity, not a psychological approach of development stages and individual genius." - Bruce Nussbaum
The IxD Library is a collection of books, articles, and presentations of interest to interaction designers. It attempts to not be the definitive collection of every piece of content about interaction design, only the best and most influential. It is also strictly (as is possible) about interaction design and not usability, information architecture, visual design, human factors, or even general experience design, although certainly all of those fields affect and exist alongside interaction design in the field.
1. They don’t tend to think about consumers; they think about people and what they want and need.
2. They like observing.
3. They bring expertise in other categories and industries to bear.
4. They look at what might all change in the short, medium and long-term, by engaging with the best trends and forecasting intelligence.
Inspiration: They Look for What to Do Good designers want to solve problems — and this makes them want to transform insights into inspiration.
1. They have the ability to visualize what has never been.
2. They live and work in the future most days.
3. they overcome the “not invented here…” syndrome.
Action: They Keep Going They don’t stop with the invention. They turn their inspirations into reality.
1. They don’t claim to be able to do everything, but they do know to work with the various functions and outside resources that do.
2. They are good at practical resolution. Their ability to “make it real” can help resolve contradictions and find highest common denominator compromises, helping the (innovation/ marketing) process more forward.
3. They are good at iterative prototyping, refining the concept through repeated cycles and getting feedback from the right people as they go.