The User Experience Team of One Blog

A Research and Design Survival Guide

Posts written by Leah Buley

  • UX Method of the Week: Learning Plan

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    What do you know, what don’t you know, and how are you going to learn it?

    A learning plan sounds like a formal concept, but really it’s just about taking the time to ask yourself where the gaps are in your current understanding of users’ needs and experiences, and how you can fill in that understanding. A surprisingly large number of people claim to practice user-centered design, but fail to ever actually speak with or spend time with users. Don’t be like them. One of the core tenets of a user-centered philosophy is that you respect and learn from your users’ sometimes unpredictable lives. A learning plan is a simple tool that you can use by yourself or with a team to map out what you know and what you need to learn.

    UX Questionnaire

    Try It Out

    1. Start with what you know.
      Set aside 30 minutes or an hour to free-list everything you think you know about your users What are your working assumptions?
    2. Separate certainties from assumptions.
      For each assumption, indicate how confident you are in that assumption. While you do this, look for any questions that can be grouped together and simplified.
    3. Brainstorm research methods.
      Now, for each of your questions, brainstorm how you might go about getting more data or info in this area. Also think about what resources will be required to actually answer these questions (for example, face-to-face time with users, a Web intercept survey, access to server log data, etc.). Note that not all research questions will require direct and immediate access to customers. Some answers can be derived from tools or processes that users touch—for example, call center transcripts, search analytics, and so on. Be creative in thinking about where and how you can gather data to answer your questions.
    4. Plan outputs.
      Finally, for each area that you’d like to research further, think about what form your evidence will take (for example, presenting and distributing new personas).
    What’s the most unlikely place where you’ve uncovered great data about your users?

    Post your reply as a comment below by Tuesday, 11/26, midnight PT. The best reply wins a free copy of The User Experience Team of One.

    UX Method of the Week: Strategy Workshop

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    What is our vision for the ideal user experience, and what do we need to focus on to bring that unique experience to life?

    There is a special moment that’s just right for a strategy workshop, and it’s early in the process before design has been kicked off. It’s the time when optimism and interest in “what could be” are at their highest. This stage gets people when they are most likely to engage with an open mind, and times it so that strategic thinking can influence the ultimate work plan.

    In a strategy workshop, you’re leveraging the collective wisdom of a cross-functional team to begin to establish a vision and a strategy for your user experience. When people talk about strategy, often they’re using the same word to talk about very different concepts. To one person, strategy is about prioritization and having a timeline. To another, it might mean establishing a vision for the future. Neither is wrong, and a strategy workshop can help you get clarity on both.

    A stakeholder workshop can include a hodgepodge of different activities, depending on your needs for that particular project, team, and time. Possible activities include:

    • Triads help you explore the identity of your product, starting with a simple word-listing exercise. For this activity, get the team to brainstorm a list of keywords that they would like the product to embody. Pick three words that you’d put together to describe the core of the product experience. Work with the group to identify combos that are interesting to them. Then, for that particular three-word combo, brainstorm related nouns, verbs, and adjectives that might go with a product built around this triad.
      Triads Example
    • An elevator pitch helps you align around a shared description of your product and what’s special about it. For this activity, you can use a template to create a succinct statement of what distinguishes your product from its competitor or comparator offerings. The elevator pitch can help you understand what differentiates the offering, and hence, which features and characteristics should serve as the defining elements of the product. It can also help you prioritize by shining a light on what matters most in delivering on the core value proposition of the product.

      Elevator Pitch

    What’s YOUR best activity for involving stakeholders in UX vision?

    Post your reply as a comment below by Tuesday, 11/19, midnight PT. The best reply wins a free copy of The User Experience Team of One.

    UX Method of the Week: Opportunity Workshop

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    An opportunity workshop is a way to quickly assess what work needs to be done to improve the user experience, what’s highest priority from a business perspective, and what will have the most impact from a user perspective.

    Use an opportunity workshop when you find yourself having general discussions about the need for an improved user experience, but there is no clear momentum or sense of how to get there.

    Average Time

    3–4 hours total

    • 1 hour to plan and invite people
    • 2 hours to conduct workshop
    • 1 hour to document what you learned and plan the next steps

    Try It Out

    1. Host a work session.
      Block off at least two hours on the calendar and invite together a cross-functional team of people who all work on the product.
    2. State the goals of the work session.
    3. Uncover problem areas.
      Guide the team in a pain storm activity on Post-it notes or index cards, as shown in Figure 5.8. Ask everyone to write down as many things they can think of that are:

      • A problem in the current product
      • A missed opportunity in the current product
      • Just plain important to get right in the product
      • One-by-one, ask people to share their Post-it notes, and put them on the wall where others can see them.
  • Discuss strengths.
    Next, ask the team to write down the product’s strengths—again, one strength per sticky note, as shown in Figure 5.9. It’s useful to follow problem areas with strengths so that the team ends on a positive note, even if the overall discussion may have been constructively critical.
  • Find themes.
    Next, guide the team in an activity to organize the issues that were identified into related groupings. Once some clear groups begin to emerge, ask the team to label each group. Put the label on another sticky note (preferably of a different size or color, so it stands out from the other Post-its) so everyone can easily stand back and see the issues and opportunities as broad themes.
  • Prioritize.
    Now, lead the team in a prioritization exercise. This could just be a discussion. Or, to make it more structured, give everyone a certain number of votes, and ask them to put their votes next to the clusters that they think are most urgent to address, improve, or enhance.
  • Discuss.
    Once the priorities have been clearly identified, lead the group in a discussion about how urgently these should be addressed, and how you’d like to address them.
  • Brainstorm opportunity areas.
    Brainstorm opportunity areas.

    What’s YOUR favorite way to assess how to improve a product’s UX? 

    Post your reply as a comment below by Tuesday, 11/12, midnight PT. The best reply wins a free copy of The User Experience Team of One.

    UX Method of the Week: Project Brief

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    A project brief helps you get aligned on expected outcomes for a user-centered design project.

    Often, when a project is beginning, everyone involved has distinct ideas for what the right outcome looks like. In team discussions, it’s possible for people to express their point of view and think they’re all saying the same thing, but actually have very different ideas of what they expect to see. A project brief states directly what goals or expectations should prevail as the main mandate for the work.

    The brief, as its name suggests, capitalizes on the cardinal virtue of brevity to distinctly and clearly summarize the overall plan for the project: what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, relevant constraints that will drive your work, and what outcomes you expect. Another bonus of the brief is that by being a short description, it’s more likely that people will actually read it. This creates an opportunity for everyone to agree or, if not agree, at least have a productive conversation about the focus and goals of the project.

    Project Brief Example
    An example of a one-page project brief

    Ever done a project brief? If so, how did you involve others on your team? 

    Post your reply as a comment below by Tuesday, 11/5, midnight PT. The best reply wins a free copy of The User Experience Team of One.

    UX Method of the Week: Listening Tour

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    A listening tour helps you learn what your team’s priorities are, and how much awareness and support for UX currently exists.

    Especially for teams of one, knowing the priorities of others will help you identify where there are opportunities and problems to solve, and where user-centered design practices might be a good fit. A listening tour is time set up to gather information and learn what matters to your colleagues. Sometimes, UX practitioners describe this as stakeholder interviews, and they usually take the format of you and a colleague chatting in an office or conference room. Whatever the label, the goal is the same: to learn about your colleagues’ priorities and goals, and to formulate a point of view on the role of UX in helping them accomplish those goals. If you’re lucky on your listening tour, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much people already value human-centered products (as evidenced by code words like “user-friendly,” “intuitive,” and inevitably, “Apple”). If you’re less lucky, you might find that people have a wary and seasoned caution about what can and cannot be done. But that’s valuable information, too.

    These interviews should help you see what parts of the product you should be focusing on, and what sacred cows are truly sacred (versus those that can be challenged). They may also help you see what technical and practical constraints you will need to work within. Without a doubt, they will give you a sense of formal and softer measures by which success will be judged. Finally, they will help you gauge how much support and enthusiasm there is for user-centered improvements. The art of the listening tour, and interviewing in general, is to accept and believe what your interviewee is telling you, but also to ask probing questions to try to understand what’s really underneath their beliefs. When in doubt, keep asking “why?”

    Ever done a listening tour? What tip would you share with others? 

    Post your reply as a comment below by Tuesday, 10/29, midnight PT. The best reply wins a free copy of The User Experience Team of One.

    UX Method of the Week: UX Project Plan

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    The UX project plan helps you ask, “what work goes into designing a great user experience?”

    A UX project plan is your blueprint for how you’re going to conduct UX activities. Not to be confused with the overall project plan (which is usually owned by a project manager or program manager), a UX project plan helps you think about how UX work will integrate with the broader project timeline. Sometimes, the work that you’re asked to do as a UX team of one doesn’t warrant a full-blown plan. Fix a Web page. Do a heuristic assessment. Such activities may just take a day or two. However, if your involvement is likely to span more than a few weeks, a plan is important.

    UX Project Plan Example
    A UX project plan can take many forms. Even a simple table works nicely.

    Mainly, a UX project plan forces you to be honest with yourself about how you are going to tackle the work. This can be especially helpful if you are not really sure how you’re going to tackle work—which, let’s face it, happens every now and again. Sitting down to craft a plan helps you figure out what your process should be.

    Even if no one has directly asked you for a UX project plan, it’s probably a good idea to put one together. There may come a time in the project when someone does ask you. When they do, you’ll be ready. Because UX processes are sometimes unfamiliar and new, your non-UX colleagues may not know what to expect as far as a process or deliverables. A clear and jargon-free UX plan can help set their expectations. It’s even better if you can include work samples. If you don’t have examples from your own portfolio yet, borrowing examples from books or online works, too.


    What’s your best tip for creating accurate UX project plans?

    Post your reply as a comment below by Tuesday, 10/22, midnight PT. The best reply wins a free copy of The User Experience Team of One.

    UX Method of the Week: UX Questionnaire

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    A user experience questionnaire is deceptively simple: it’s just a standard list of questions for you to ask yourself about a product or user experience at the start of any engagement.Why not just start working on the user experience and see where things go? In theory, if a product has a clear purpose and a specific audience, and you have some good ideas for how to improve the user experience, then you’re all set. Of course, product design can go off track for any number of reasons. UX work, in particular, often is brought in as a silver bullet to solve what can be a dizzying set of challenges, ranging from lack of product strategy to issues with the organizational structure. The user interface is often where these problems become visible.

    A good user experience questionnaire can help you spot issues early on, which puts you in a better position to point out all those red flags and prevent them from putting the design at risk. On a more practical level, a user experience questionnaire can also help you make sure that the goals are clear and that you know what you’re designing and why. A good user experience questionnaire will also get you thinking about what work still needs to be done and how you might want to proceed. This then feeds into the “UX Project Plan” (method #2).

    You can create a template like the one shown above to make it an easily repeatable process. (You can download a PDF template here: 5.1 UX Questionnaire Template.) As you can see, the final document doesn’t have to be too polished. Mostly, it’s a scratch pad for you to help yourself think through specific questions.

    Of course, there are many different and equally valid questions you might ask yourself and your team when you’re starting a project. Which leads to this question, for this week’s #methodmonday…

    What’s the most important question you ask when kicking off a project? 

    Post your reply as a comment below by Tuesday, 10/15, midnight PT. The best reply wins a free copy of The User Experience Team of One.

    27 Weeks of UX Methods

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    I’m excited to announce that starting next week we’ll be kicking off a weekly series called UX Method* of the Week.

    The idea is simple:

    1. Each week, one method from The User Experience Team of One will be featured on twitter and on this book web site.
    2. For the featured method, I’ll ask folks to share their best tips.
    3. Then I’ll pick the most clever and brilliant tip that’s been shared.

    The author of the winning tip will receive a free copy of the book (valued at $39) and public adulation from yours truly over on the twitters (priceless).

    We’ll kick things off next week with method #1, the UX Questionnaire. If you want to participate, be sure to follow me on twitter @ugleah, or check back here periodically to see the latest method and reply with your own best tips.

    * Why methods? Well, because I love UX methods. I love what they stand for: self-contained, UX-focused activities that you can inject into your process to achieve new and different outcomes. My love of methods should be no surprise to readers of The User Experience Team of One. Part two of the book is a reference-style compendium of 27 methods. When done in order, they comprise a start-to-finish blueprint for taking on a project as a UX team of one.

    The User Experience Team of One Will Be Available on July 9

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    A few days ago, I found myself sitting at my kitchen table watching fireworks explode. They were meant to celebrate independence day here in the United States, but somehow they felt like they were special ordered just for me. The first printed copies of my book had just arrived in the  mail. At long last, The User Experience Team of One is real! From the stunning, psychedelic cover to the easy-on-the-eyes interior, it looks fantastic.

    The book will officially be available for sale on July 9th.

    To celebrate its release  and kick it off right, I’ll be hosting a UX Team of One workshop at UXPA on July 9th and a User Interface Engineering virtual seminar on July 11th (where I’ll be attempting to cram as much of the book as possible into a brisk 90 minutes).

    I hope you’ll consider you’ll consider joining me for the workshop or the virtual seminar. And of course, I invite you to check out the book. It’s the first to address this topic head on, and I believe it will be relevant to many user experience professionals working around the world today.

    Tips for freelancers

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    Leisa Reichelt just published a really great article called 10 Tips for UX Freelancing that I wanted to pass along. Why tips for freelancers?

    As a part of book research, I’ve been having some illuminating conversations with UX teams of one lately. In one of those conversations @mojoguzzi (the Joe behind Regular Joe Consulting)  opened my eyes to how many teams of one are freelancers, and how unique their challenges can be.

    Leisa’s list is a great resource if you’re a freelancing team of one. Know of any other good resources for UX freelancers? Please share.