The most common questions I get asked by junior UXers

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The most common questions I get asked by junior UXers

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While it’s only October, 2018 has brought me some incredible career experiences; I finished off a large-scale (2 year) digital transformation of New York’s largest utility provider, did my first technical UX writing work for the most famous fitness brand, and got more than knee-deep learning about the crazy-complex insurance vertical. Whew. Let me catch my breath.

But, it also brought me an incredible array of cold-contact-emails from junior UX designers looking to have casual coffee-date conversations about their UX career. (I applaud all of you. This is NOT an easy thing to do.) The first email made me think about how much I needed this chat 10 years ago, so I made it my goal to say yes to every single email. And, I have.

I know I won’t always have time to schedule these in-person meetings or vid-chats (time = money, yes), so I created a list of the top questions that I’ve been asked this year. Based on my past 11 years in the creative/UX industry, I hope this can act as a starting point for anyone new to UX or anyone curious about where to take their UX career.

May my experience help you navigate your careers,
Christine



1. If I’m a junior UXer, should I work at an agency or a start-up?

My short answer…

Both. Both offer extremely different, but inherently valuable, environments and experiences to help you decide where to take your future career. 

My long answer…

Start-up Life
Early in my career I spent several years at a 5 person creative shop in midtown where I worked side-by-side two developers who helped me understand the complexities of the engineering world and how it could affect the decisions that I made on the creative end of the spectrum. I learned how to work fast and learn faster, balance the trade-offs between technology and UI, and Google-search the hell out of things that I didn’t know. And, the freedom to explore and integrate the use of new tools and practices made my sweet little soul explode with joy.

Adversely, in start-up environments you’re dealing with a more restricted team. You may have less senior leadership who carry past experience to lean on, and with less experience, you’ll have less knowledge to determine the ideal process for a project execution. This can create areas of risk which may fall back on you if things don’t work out. And, done forget, there will be late nights. Yes, inevitably, many of them. But, hey, the snacks and alcohol are great perks. 

Agency Life
Post start-up life, I got a job at a global digital agency. An agency that had won some of the most prized global awards, executed large-scale projects with the world’s biggest brands, and boasted a strong company vision for the future of the local office. If you’re not glossy-eyed by that already, one of the best part of working here was the opportunity to work under some of the most talented individuals in the UX industry. I beefed up my UX best practices (and how to articulate why/when to break them), learned when and how to properly execute a wide-array of ux research methods, and found peace when I learned how to say “no.”

Yes, there will typically be more hands fulfilling more specialized roles. You’ll have lots of resources to answer whatever questions you run into (and yes, there will be lots). It’s the ideal place to meet insanely brilliant people–inspirational leaders that will get you to drink whatever kool aide they are selling, obscenely multi-talented creatives that will make you wonder if they have a life outside of the office, and the most assiduous user experience practitioners that will kill you with both their vast user data and lucid imagination.

Yes, it’s a great place to gain a whole different set of skills and knowledge, but with more people, and more processes, and more red tape, agency-life tends to run a bit slower than start-up world. New tools have to be signed off by your boss, your boss’s boss, finance, and then maybe global gets involved before you can fold a new tool into your toolbox. 

To keep the lights on and go after the more glamour projects, most agencies need to take on some less-than-glamours work. So don’t always expect to be working on the exciting Nike project. 100% of agency individuals have worked on less-than-shareworthy projects like creating mayonnaise advertising or building digestive health website templates. But, if you can get past the product, the work can be pretty interesting.


2. Where do I find jobs?

This is the million dollar question right here. Well…

If you’re like me and on LinkedIn more than you should be, I’m sure you have an inbox full of emails from recruiters trying to throw a hook out in search of their next UX designer. While working with recruiters is certainly an option, this is far from where I start my job search. 

Start with your network. Consider all the people you’ve worked with. Are they at another company that may need a UX designer? Have you gone to any networking meet-ups recently? Reach out to some of the Individuals you connected with to chat UX. Have you recently used a product and been enamored by the experience you had? Reach out to some of the Individuals (or the company) to just chat about UX. Does a friend know a UX designer? Ask them to schedule drinks for all of you to meet. Utilizing this more personal network provides a more accurate inside perspective on what the company is truly like to work for, can help you see how your work-life values will fit inside a company, or can even help you gain a stronger understanding of where your unique skillset would be beneficial to their team’s work. And the best part, these Individuals won’t sway money away from your yearly salary (yeah, I’m looking at you recruiters).

LinkedIn has also made it incredibly easy to research experience designers. Find someone who has work you admire–someone who you are incredibly afraid to talk to–and send that person an email. Email also makes it easy for us to click ignore, so, don’t feel back if everyone doesn’t respond. But, for those who do get back to you (remember patience is a virtue), take advantage of it. Ask for a 15 minute Hangout chat. If you’re close, offer to pay for a coffee for a bit of their time. It costs nothing to ask. This is your career, and nothing big comes without a bit of risk. (Trust me, this is the lowest risk task you will EVER have to take in your career, so just do it.)

Connections and networking are integral to shaping an extremely successful UX career. So, don’t be afraid to attend events. Speak up. Ask questions. Make office friends outside of your discipline. Get around, knowledge-wise. Your career will thank you later.

*Footnote here* If you don’t get feverish emails from recruiters, and you are dying to, try updating your profile, ask some colleagues to give you a recommendation, or actively engage with interesting posts. This will help boost your profile in the UX rankings and list your profile higher up to recruiters who are searching for people like you. 


3. What do UX hiring managers look for in a junior UX designer?

We know that you don’t have a plethora of experience, but we’re expecting to see some really strong qualities when we interview a junior UX designer.

  • Hunger: No, I’m not talking food-hungry. I’m talking about a hunger to explore, learn, work hard, and develop new skills without someone babysitting you. We know that you may not have everything figured out at this point in your career, but we want you to always be pushing to better yourself and skillset.

  • Hand-Raiser: We’re not looking for someone with all the right answers, we’re looking for someone who’s willing to admit when they don’t know the answer–someone who isn’t afraid to raise his/her hand in the all-staff meeting. I want someone to tell me when they find themselves lost on a task before I lose a weeks worth of time on you sitting there twiddling your thumbs.

  • Story-telling Skills: UX is a field of crafting and presenting stories. I want someone who can articulate an intriguing story. An easy start is your portfolio. It’s probably pretty light, but walk in and tell me a story about your most recent project. Show me some pictures without a million words on the slide. What excited you about it? How did you connect with it? What was unexpected about it? What did you learn along the way? What do you wish you could do differently?

  • Positivity: No Debbie-Downers allowed. It’s not always going to be rainbows, unicorns, and pots of gold. I look for positive energy. How do you deal with stressful situations?

  • Culture-fit: No (normal) manager likes laying off individuals, so I take extra care in assessing how I see a potential candidate fitting into my team. Individuals have different working-styles, exhibit unique personalities, embody different work-life balance requirements–and that’s cool. But when we have to find someone to fit into an existing team, we want to make sure the fit is mutually beneficial.


4. What about my portfolio? I don’t have much to show.

Even if you only have a single project from a past General Assembly course or a past job, this is the perfect pace to start. Your work is only as strong as the story you tell with it. Use your work and process to guide whatever you create–maybe it’s a deck of slides or maybe it’s a website. Take me on an emotional and engaging journey through your UX process, however this comes to life. Some things to think about:

  • What problem you were looking to solve (and why)?

  • How did you personally/empathetically connect to this project?

  • What type of research did you conduct (and why)? What did it tell you? What decisions did you make based on this research?

  • What types of deliverables did you create over the course of the project? What did they inform?

  • What problems did you run into and how did you solve them?

  • What would you go back and do differently if could?

  • What is the 1 thing you will take as a learning into your next project?

I’m typically not as concerned with how beautiful and shiny it looks, but I am concerned with your articulation. Don’t just show a wireframe and expect your reviewer to be engaged. This is the “YOU” show, so make sure YOU know your stuff.

Inevitably, we don’t expect to see a full-blown 60-slide pitch deck, but we want to hear your story (see how this ties back to one of the qualities I look for?). Consider starting with a story of why/how you got into the UX field. When I graduated college, there was no UX degree, so my colleagues and I all came from different backgrounds. Each of us can articulate a beautiful and engaging story about how we landed in the UX industry. I look for passion, entertainment, and your emotional connection–a story that keeps me on the edge of my chair wanting to hear more and sad when it ends.

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the 1 hour logos

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the 1 hour logos

As summer comes to a close, I start thinking about Starbucks PSL football. And naturally, every agency I end up at runs some sort of friendly cutthroat fantasy football league. So I naturally toss in $10 and spend the next 4 months debating what to do with a broken QB or an underperforming WR.

But, before all this excitement commences, I must start with the team name...and a cute logo, of course. Because I'm a New Yorker Wisconsin girl at heart, my team will always be based on my hometown boys, the Green Bay Packers.

Here are some of my one hour logos / team options.

xo – Christine

kiss.jpg

every kiss begins with clay

Because, who doesn't love a little muscle and some flowing blonde hair?

Armed_Rodgery_logo_christinelavarda.jpg

armed rodgery

Because we will not be robbed of a winning season this year, friends.

mister_rodgers_neighborhood.jpg

mister rodgers' neighborhood

Because who doesn't wants to be this handsome man's neighbor?

straight_outta_cobbton.jpg

straight outta cobbton

Because he can come straight out of anywhere.

cheese_and_packers_logo.jpg

cheese & packers

Because cheese and crackers were a food group in my house growing up.

50_shades_of_clay_christine_lavarda.jpg

50 shades of clay

Because Clay isn't always green and gold.

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Your future purchases will be based on this...

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Your future purchases will be based on this...

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.
— Warren Buffett

I attended the Collision Conference in New Orleans earlier this month and decided to travel without a car. With plenty of transportation options, why bother dealing with a parking nightmare, right? Immediately after landing, I checked Lyft to downtown. To my surprise, Lyft is not available at New Orleans Airport, but Uber is. So, Uber it was.

Later in the day I needed a car to dinner. Again, I attempted to check the price for a Lyft. Unfortunately, Lyft was not able to give me an estimated price. Nothing. Uber offered up an acceptable price. So, Uber it was, again. And so was the case for a handful of additional times during my week stay.
 


Reliability can build reputation & brand loyaltyor ruin it

In other cities, including in my home, New York City, Uber and Lyft reliably provide customers with airport service as well as advance pricing for car services. I would rather pay a bit more, knowing the amount, than take the risk of being charged whatever they deem an “acceptable price”. (We all know how that can end.)

At the end of my stay in New Orleans, I happened to run into a marketing and operations specialist, Carlos F., from Lyft (SF). The first thing that came out of my mouth was “as a large metropolitan city, why is there no advance pricing here for Lyft?” His answer was a bit vague stating there are issues displaying the pricing when the demand is extremely high. But, demand changes throughout the day, so if this service was actually offered, I never actually saw it at any time of the day. He empathized, saying that he has “heard about this issue from others” and has “put in an internal ticket for the Lyft developers” to address this. All great, but your company lost all of my business to your competitor for the entire week—and potentially longer.

 

Kathryn Minshew  , The Muse (Collision 2017)

Kathryn Minshew, The Muse (Collision 2017)

 

So, what will your future purchases will be based on? Experience.

Ironically, the conference I was in New Orleans for was hyper-focused on experience. Across industries and verticals, many of the discussions centered around how experience will be how we measure the future.

With the tech revolution aiding in expansive marketplace competition, we’re seeing a “sea of sameness” emerge. There are hundreds of apps, websites, and services that offer essentially the exact same thing–the main differentiators being the experience. So, instead of basing decisions on whether the product or service delivers on their promise (because the majority do), customers are beginning to base recurring purchase decisions on whether their experience was delightful, or as in my case, unsatisfying.

As I don’t work for Lyft, I don’t know the total impact of this situation on their business, but it’s certainly not helping OR keeping their customers delighted. In the driver/ride-share marketplace, customer options are quickly growing (See: Gett, Via, Sidecar, Juno, Wingz, Hailo–internationally) . Companies that can’t keep up with market expectations, will soon be left behind for better, more rewarding experiences somewhere else. Customer experience expectations are ever-changing, so if you don’t keep ahead, you’ll get left behind.

So, Lyft, if you're listening, I leave you with this thought...

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.
— Bill Gates

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UX Knowledge Share: Sitemaps

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UX Knowledge Share: Sitemaps

Sitemaps–a deliverable no large-scale digital web project should ever neglect, but yet, something that clients have a difficult time understanding the need for or proper use of. 

I have been lucky enough to spend the last year working on one of my favorite projects ever–a massive digital transformation of ConEd.com–taking the tired looking site from 1999 to 2017 (and beyond). After audience research, content audits, competitive analysis, and gathering insights from web analytics, my team was able to structure an extensive 10+ page document that would become the foundation of the new website. But why did we build this ginormous sitemap?

Initially sitemaps are excellent tools to:

  1. Confirm content prioritization and content organization make sense to actual users. (Is it easy for users to find the content they need to access? Is the terminology used natural to users? Is the point from A to B cumbersome?) 
  2. Align everyone on the future state of site content–new and existing. (Are all stakeholders on-board with the proposed structure?)
  3. Mapping pages to content copy decks (there should be no missing pieces/decks at the end of this)
  4. Avoid content duplication. (Duplicating content is bad practice. Don't do it.)
  5. Establish a flexible design (Make sure the architecture is scalable to accommodate new content over time). 
Sitemap

Sitemap

So, we had a sitemap and built a website. End of story. WRONG! We couldn't just hand the clients a document and expect them to know what to do with it. In order to give the clients the confidence in applying the`same thinking to maintain a consistent website structure going forward, we needed to provide them the logic behind our work.

To transfer our knowledge, I structured a 3-step presentation (with an interactive exercise at the end). Below is my handoff approach that can help you build your customer's confidence in maintaining their new shiny sitemap.

How to structure a sitemap knowledge share presentation

  1. WHAT
    What key information did you start with? Taking into consideration that not everyone at the presentation will have been part of everything done over the course of the project, everyone should understand, on a high level, the breadth of strategic research, the customer and stakeholder interviews, the site goals and guidelines, and the analytics and user testing. 
  2. WHY
    Using the aggregated research, why was the sitemap structured in a specific way? This is where you define the insights–what did you learn from the research that played into decisions on the sitemap? For us, we learned through customer interviews that account transactions (ie. paying a bill or starting/stopping service) were some of the primary goals of users on the site, so we needed to prioritize pathways to key actions. Through customer card sorting exercises, we learned that the VOC (voice of the customer) was important in helping users understand what specific content was. Based on user testing, we found many customers searching for content as a specific type of customer (ie. business vs. residential customer) and because of this, we segmented relevant content based on user type.
  3. HOW
    With a final sitemap structure defined, how can you maintain a consistent sitemap structure going forward? To help our clients, I defined several key questions for them to ask themselves when a new piece of content shows up on their desk. The derived questions could guide them through the thought process to access a proper places that would make sense to customers and also build on the structure we had defined. Some of our questions included:
    • Is this placement in-line with our guiding site principles?
    • What is the audience for this piece of content and does this placement work for those users?
    • Is this easily find-able for the target user?
    • Is this placement consistent?
  4. GROUP EXERCISE: I DO, WE DO, YOU DO
    "I do, we do, you do" s a learning method of talking participants through a new concept, showing them how to do it, and then having them do it on their own. Research confirms this is an effective learning process. I started with a new hypothetical piece of content and talked through my reasoning of where I would put it in the sitemap and why (referencing the research and insights we surfaced). After doing another example together as a group, individual attendees took turns taking pieces of content and talking through where they would place it. Though there may be some struggles, this is a good method to allow participants to apply their learning.
I do, we do, you do: Group Exercise

I do, we do, you do: Group Exercise

In the long run, sitemaps are great tools for:

  1. Maintaining website consistency (making sure that categories/sections don't become dumping grounds for random pieces of content)
  2. Managing content ownership (for larger organizations where content is dispersed across teams, this is a place where ownership of content can be displayed)
  3. Prioritizing content (this continues to be of importance after launch as a site's content grows, items may need to be de-prioritized or re-prioritized)

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Building an Integrated Translation Experience

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Building an Integrated Translation Experience

UX Challenge: Our new website build must incorporate 2 human translated languages (English and Spanish) along with a Google translation widget to accommodate other languages from our target personas. 


Step 1: Research / Discovery

Because the client had previously been using the Google Translation widget, they wanted proceed with incorporating the same module. Our technical research on the widget was able to highlight:

Google_Translate.png

 

Negatives (*cue tiny violin*)

  1. Minimal customization of widget appearance
    • Elements you can customize: font, background, languages and dropdown icon 
  2. Language drop down is non-responsive 
    • Language options are not all viewable unless the browser width is 1050px+, causing display issues on smaller devices and screens

Positives

  1. Free Free Free!
  2. Offers a multitude of languages 
    • In the interim of having professionally translated pages of content, the module gives customers the ability to get a general understanding

 

Step 2: Build & Test

Solution 1

My first proposed solution positioned the two language tools apart from each other. We feared positioning them together would correlate them as the same thing and we didn't want the un-perfect Google translations to be confused with a professional translation of content. With a minor hack work-around, the tired looking Google Translate widget was placed behind a prettier looking "Google Translate" button click. This gave us the flexibility to tie the visual style into our new brand look and feel. [Google does not offer that feature in its stand alone widget.]

After some initial testing, most users found the translations were the same "feature" and should be combined, regardless if they were imperfect.

 

SOLUTION 2 

Refining my previous solution based on user feedback, I proposed we integrate all the languages into the utility bar. The "Google Translate" terminology was adjusted to "Other Languages" to feel more cohesive with the other options. With a more consistent and integrated approach, customers found this more intuitive and convenient.  (See screens of the revised experience below.)

Based on our research and testing, the client approved our second solution approach. (This will be pushed live with the next code update on ConEd.com)

Because of the widget's technical limitations, there are still the some draw-backs, but conducting some lo-fi prototypes and talking to customers about them, helped us build an approach that fit the expectations and needs of the customers. #win

 

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I'm lazy. Don't make me think.

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I'm lazy. Don't make me think.

A month ago I traveled to Wisconsin for small reunion of high school friends. I volunteered to book a set of tickets for a baseball game–because, how hard could that be?

Apparently, I was being naive.

I did some quick preliminary research on ticket prices and seats and found us some seats, so I decided to purchase them on official Brewers website. After going through the selection process (which I had to close out of several times just to see where the seats were located), I made it to the payment page. 

I'm not quite sure their reasoning, but they don't allow users to book tickets as guests. Why? I wish someone would explain, because even Amazon let's me do this. (I gave in to the fact that I would probably end up getting a lot of spam and have to opt out of those emails, only because I wanted to pre-book these tickets, FAST!). So I...

Tip: Always tell your users the exact requirements. In some cases it's also helpful displaying when users have included one of your requirements.

Tip: Always tell your users the exact requirements. In some cases it's also helpful displaying when users have included one of your requirements.

Enter data: Email, Password, Confirm Password. #fail

"Hmmm. Did I enter my password correctly?"

Re-enter data: Email, Password, Confirm Password. #fail

"Grrr...I totally entered them correctly."

Read: "Passwords must be 8 to 15 characters and contain at least one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter and one number."

"Ok, great, but WTF!!!!! Mine has ALL OF THOSE!!!!" I continue to count the characters, and retype it several more times before trying a completely different password. #fail

I feverishly google secure passwords that have all these requirements. 2:10 minutes left to continue before I have to start over. GRRRRRR!!!!!

Finally. Something took. It worked. Do I remember what utterly random combination of characters, numbers, and letters I used to actually make it work? Heck no. Do I care? No. Never going back. Ever. Next time I will book through a third party, purely for the better purchasing experience.

And, if anyone managing the Brewers site reads this, remember us lazy users who don't want to think when we're paying YOU. Here's some free UX...this could really help users not hate you:

Password Requirements:  In cases were complex passwords are required, help users understand when they've met certain requirements. 

Password Requirements: In cases were complex passwords are required, help users understand when they've met certain requirements. 

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Did you just misspell my name?

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Did you just misspell my name?

"Hi Kristine..." 

Ok. Stop. Stop right there.

I know you're just looking to fill a position you are staffing for, but you just deflated my semi-decent vibe with your eager "slip of the finger". I loathe the fact that you either didn't care to look at my last email sign off or take the time to look at my LinkedIn profile—because you know...it's on there...in a pretty big font.

No, my name is not Cristine, Christy, Chrissy, Chris, or Kristine...or whatever other interesting spelling some of you have come up with. For your convenience, I've listed my full name in all of my signatures—specifically for you to copy and paste, if you can't correctly use a keyboard to type it on your own.

For the rest of you lovely human beings, please, for the love of God, take 5 seconds to make sure you're correctly spelling the name of whoever you are emailing (or writing–since some of you still use a real pen to write). Experiences like this go unnoticed...until it's a negative one.

CHRISTINE

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Project Management: Physical vs. Digital

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Project Management: Physical vs. Digital

I recently worked with tech company to build out a new online trading platform. The company set a tight product deadline and we were hustling to manage our personal deadlines as well as department deadlines. In my past experience experience with project managers, most default to one of a variety of online software tools to manage projects and associated tasks (think Basecamp, JIRA, Trello, etc.). But without a "project manager" here, I still wanted a transparent way to view where the UX & design team were in our project completion–what items were not yet started, in progress, or completed.

My UX team decided to adopt an empty whiteboard to post our team's tasks on–using different colored post-it notes to denote different types of tasks. All team members were responsible for managing their own tasks and moving them to the correct category when they started or completed them. It was a great visual indicator for everyone involved to see the progress we were making without having to open another tab in our browser or log it in another new software management system.

Soon after we began our task board, engineering decided to adapt the whiteboard to include their team's tasks as well. Everyone found something very satisfying about using a lo-fidelity, tactile method of writing down items and moving them across the board.

While I LOVE my digital cloud applications, collaboration doesn't always have to happen in a digital format. And, in this case, it was a refreshing experiment that took us back to an age before computer-based project management. We were constantly reminded, by this huge physical board, of our end goal. And we made it.

The progress of our task management board. We even included a "key" so non-participants had full transparency into our process and progress.

The progress of our task management board. We even included a "key" so non-participants had full transparency into our process and progress.

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Working Together, Half a World Apart

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Working Together, Half a World Apart

The past 2.5 months working out of New York City with a team based in Singapore has felt like a test for me. A test to see how early I can wake up, on a daily basis, and be coherent enough to start a scrum meeting. At this point, I'm pretty confident I'm running a passing grade on that test–but dang, 6am is legit early for this New Yorker.

But this project has also brought on challenges working with a UX team that not only resides on a different continent, many many time zones away, but working with a client that resides in a completely different location than us both.

Here are two challenges we've worked through and some of my personal takeaways:

 

UX Challenge 1:
How could our UX team best collaborate on creating a best in class product experience given our opposite time zones.

Our approach:
My UX colleague in Singapore and I started by setting up a daily schedule were we would adjusted our working hours in a way where we could overlap 2-3 hours of our day. While this obviously created working hours there were a bit uncharacteristic for our profession (me 6am-3pm, and my colleague 12pm-8pm), it was practical given our situation. Most days we spent our overlap hours on Skype calls and video sketching sessions, white boarding, and post-it-noting. We worked through complex user flows, content categorization, and user stories live on a Google-drive document. Each of us would populate our ideas while discussing our rationale, and then we'd move items around. In many ways it was almost like working together in person, at the same table, except most days I worked in my pajamas.

Down & dirty UX sketch video session

Down & dirty UX sketch video session

My Takeaways:

  1. Many hours apart, technology was the key that helped us bridge a communication gap, and aided in the facilitation of a more collaborative working environment that seemingly only 20 years ago may never have been possible (or just way to expensive to even consider). Regardless of whether we were in the same city or half a world away, real-time tools (Skype, GoogleDrive, etc.) helped us quickly convey thoughts without having to save a 25mb file and send it via email, only for it to get stuck in an outbox. GoogleDrive has since become my tool of choice for a lot of UX-related tasks–planning/estimating, aggregating research, writing findings reports, building sitemaps, and even storing folders worth of sketches–basically anything that I need to access wherever/whenever with whoever. This cloud thing is doing wonders for my ux work.
     
  2. I never considered the obscene number of distractions a regular office environment could produce–coffee breaks, meetings, puppy play time, meetings, client pop-ins, meetings, birthday events, meetings, lunch and learns, and obviously MORE MEETINGS. Having working hours where the majority of the team was sleeping made my day, for the most part, 100% uninterrupted work time. I found I could complete tasks faster and more efficiently with less interruptions. And, this also made my daily morning scrums and team calls that much more focused. Win/Win. 

 

UX Challenge 2:
How does our UX team most efficiently convey our complex design concepts to a client we would not have to opportunity to see or work with in person.

Our approach:
After working with the same client last year, we knew it would be key to sell our well-thought out experience vision to the client. With 8 sprints set up to manage the various areas of the product, we utilized each of those sprints to set up a focused presentation with the client. Much of our work had been done behind the scenes–researching, thinking, validating–and we struggled a bit to find a way to condense 3-4 weeks worth of information into a single 1 hour presentation. We decided on a hybrid presentation approach. We would first set the stage with a few slides that brought the client up speed on our progress (in the grand scheme of the project), what we were presenting in the review (to get their blessings on), and the next steps for everyone involved. Outside of that, my colleague and I utilized many of the sketches we created in our sessions and stitched them together using the prototyping software, Axure. We wanted to use this as our presentation tool, to walk the client through our visualized structure and as well as use it to key in on why we proposed specific experiences.

My home office before a client video presentation–design zen.

My home office before a client video presentation–design zen.

My Takeaways:

  1. Don't be afraid to fail or do it wrong the first time. Our first attempt at presenting our UX via interactive sketches turned out to be a bit difficult for engineers and our very technical audience to comprehend. But, that was, in theory, great. We learned something about our audience! They wanted something more tangible. They wanted to see real content they already had populated in our work. This learning would guide our next presentation. 
     
  2. Sometimes what you think may be the most efficient way of working turns out to be less efficient than imagined. Sketching is fast–down and dirty and not really super focused in on the details, but rather the core concept. That's great for communicating quickly, but having to scan sketches in, resize them, link them up in a prototype all to learn that you forgot a key item in the experience can really slow you down. We were on a limited time frame and to make small text edits and rearrange items in sketches became much more difficult than it would have been had we simply built our concepts out in Axure to begin with. 

 

And those takeaways are why I love what I do. No two projects are the same. No two clients, teams, offices, or tools are the same. It's really an act of progressive learning. We take our best stab given our past knowledge, current situation, and team structures with the understanding that we will have to be agile–always learning and adjusting appropriately. So, cheers to new experiences, whether in the same city, or half a world away.

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Connecting with the World

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Connecting with the World

Sometimes life just gets in the way. We find ourselves buried in work emails/Slack notifications/Google hangouts, or racing around making last minute dinner arrangements at a new local restaurant, or researching our next big vacation to South America (making sure we don't end up in the un-fun area of town), or perhaps just searching for a magical dancing honey badger...but anyways...he don't care.

Wherever I am in the world, amid the chaos of my daily routine, I find it important to take a minute to pause and take in the surrounding environment. There is inspirational beauty surrounding all of us, we just have to be open to seeing it.

The following are a few of my favorite daily moments.

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee

New York, New York

New York, New York

Singapore

Singapore

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The Emergence of CUI (Conversational User Interfaces)

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The Emergence of CUI (Conversational User Interfaces)

The "Age of the App" has been in full effect for the past 7 years. When mobile apps first started popping up in 2008, no one could have expected them to take over over the technology scene and completely revolutionize how we live and work. 

Currently, the iTunes app store houses around 1.4 million apps and the Google Play Store 1.7 million. (And yes, don’t forget the few hundred thousand on the Windows Phone Store, Amazon Appstore, and the struggling BlackBerry World). These numbers have had constant steady growth over the past 7 years. But how long can this continue?

In a recent Nielsen study, the average smartphone user accesses about 26.7 apps on a monthly basis. And, this number hasn't fluctuated much in the last 2 years. So, what does this mean? Why are businesses continuously developing new mobile apps if user habits aren’t shifting towards a higher use of apps?
 

GoButler SMS functionality

GoButler SMS functionality


This week I attended a Tech in Motion meet up in New York City. And, even there it was clear, there is still a large market push for apps. Every business is looking for the elusive unicorn UX designer and full stack developer to build out their visions. But when I ran into Tim Sturge, head of engineering at GoButler, I was intrigued by their consumer platform model. Their business focuses on providing anyone with a smartphone access to anything on-demand. Need flight reservations? Food delivered? Dog walked? Shoot them an SMS text and they’ll arrange all the details for you. No app needed. They’ve essentially done two key things differently:

  1. Removed the barrier to entry by simply avoiding an app shell all together. 
  2. Created a conversational user interface (CUI)—an interface which users are already familiar with. There's no need to learn a new app interaction language/pattern as the service focuses on SMS as their main channel for interaction. 

And GoButler is not the only company that has started taking this contrasting approach to building an app. Magic is a similar SMS-based ordering service that gives user 24/7 access to on-demand services and MTA Bus Time is changing the way commuters get information about their bus arrival times by allowing them to text the MTA with their bus code or intersection to receive an immediate message with how many stops away their bus is.

Rhombus 

Rhombus 

Rhombus brands itself as "the first conversational commerce platform," that helps businesses get paid by customers within an SMS conversation. Rhombus credits their deliberate no-app choice to the fact that using a CUI allows their technology to disappear in the background, therefore reducing checkout abandonment. 

While there is a growing number of companies taking this novel approach, tailored app experiences can certainly provide unique value to users via richer, more engaging experiences. In these cases, a simple SMS may never be able to replace it. However, there is also value in businesses utilizing a conversational user interface approach—ease of use, familiarity, versatility, human-centered nature, conversational context. To add to this, the 80/20 rule—80% of app users will only ever use 20% of the app's functionality—provides a solid reason to consider text-based interactions over a bulky app design.

Considering a text-based conversational user interface is a creative solution in which no full-fledged app is needed to conduct key interactions. So, if you're in the market to build an app, don't leave the "text space" out of your creative toolbox. 

 

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How to sell products people don't need

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How to sell products people don't need

Q: How does a store in a sweltering hot city make money selling gloves?

On my recent travels to Singapore I stumbled upon racks and racks of gloves and scarves in a city that only on the most rarest of occasions falls below 70°F. I was shocked. How do they do it? How does a store in such sweltering hot city make money selling gloves?

Well, the answer was on the packaging. No longer were they called "gloves"...because who here needs "gloves". What they do need is "summer gloves". SUMMER GLOVES. Add the word "SUMMER" and they're suddenly flying off shelves in balmy 90°F Singapore. Blows. My. Mind. 

Someone give that copywriter a raise.

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Looking Down in Singapore (Free Wallpapers)

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Looking Down in Singapore (Free Wallpapers)

What happens when you combine a whole bunch of cultures on a small island? Singapore happens.

A 24 hour flight traveling 9,500 miles from home, Singapore was an adventure like none other. The eclectic food scene, street fairs, art centers, and in-door everything were a refreshing cultural perspective–one that didn't fail to spark a creative fire.

So, when I returned to NYC, I said "can lah" to sharing a few of my favorite artistic street photos. These photos are a few in a series I put together in response to may who told me "Don't forget to look up" during my travels. Looking up is lovely, but we can't forget to LOOK DOWN or we'll miss some beautiful art right beneath our feet.

Enjoy, share, and find more in my series on Instagram at #GlobalSteps

You can download the hi-resolution version of all of these photos FREE for personal use (great for desktop wallpaper!). 



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Doing research in a 100 square foot office

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Doing research in a 100 square foot office

When my 300 square foot New York City home is my UX office for 50% of the year, 100 square feet get dedicated to ideas, analysis, crazy drawings, and a splattering of post-it notes–right next to the bar.

The past few months I've been working with a talented team in Singapore doing extensive stakeholder and customer research, user profiles, and customer journeys for an enterprise US company. Communicating and sharing our ideas across many times zones isn't always easy when your process is very hands-on, but we've fallen into a continuous process of daily hangouts, Skype video conferences, long emails, and hand-offs. Because we are exactly 12 hours difference, someone is always touching the work. It's been a living, breathing, changing project, and I'm looking forward to spending the next month on the final vision proposal.  

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If you're a host, you're an experience designer

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If you're a host, you're an experience designer

I love hosting. Hosting weekend guests. Hosting dinner parties. Hosting wine and cheese nights. But being a host for gatherings has less to do with an enjoyable time for yourself and everything to do with creating an exceptional and memorable experience for your guests.

Recently I was invited to a wonderful couple’s house warming party. (And if these two invite you, you know you’re in for a treat.) I opened the invitation which described an evening of food, fun, and of course a little Fireball to get the party started. I was happy to find a very detailed description of how to use public transportation to travel to their home. While this may sound trivial, they knew their audience–many like myself commuting from New York City to New Jersey, a place many New Yorkers rarely venture to. So, for me, the party details couldn't have been more appreciated.

The day of the party I arrived at their duplex apartment, and on the front door found a small sticky note directing guests to the upstairs apartment. At that moment I realized without that note, I would’ve experienced a significant stumbling block in my journey. I would have pulled out my phone to look up a unit number or fumbled to write a quick text. But they recognized this potential pain point and clearly removed the barrier before I even hit it. 

Walking into their beautifully decorated space, we were greeted by hugs, laughter, a table overflowing with food, and a full bar that would put most New York City bars to shame. I had expected some chips and dip and maybe some wine, but clearly, this party was begging to be remembered. 

The hosts spent time giving each guest a personal house tour, making everyone feel like it was a party just for them. They continued to effortlessly facilitate the most graceful of conversations, making connections between our backgrounds, interests, and very unique personalities. 

But, the highlight of the evening got everyone out of their typical “I’m at a classy party” comfort zone. The hosts brought out a huge handful of temporary tattoos. This little moment of surprise turned into delight as it challenged what we thought a “typical” house warming party should be. Several Fireball shots later, a handful of guests ended up with My Little Pony tattoos on their faces. Dedication, delight, and all-around too much fun.

A week after the party I picked up my mail, and to my surprise I received a beautiful hand-written letter from the party’s hosts. They could have sent a friendly email or text, but in our current digital age, this small, very personal gesture brought me so much more happiness than any piece of digital communication ever could.

So, if you’re a host, you’re an experience designer. And, if you’re want to be a fabulous host, here are the 3 tips that I live by:

  1. Exercise empathy and recognize where your guests could have potential pain points to prevent them ahead of time. Put yourself in their shoes and truly think about where they could run into problems. They’ll be thankful you did.
     
  2. Exceed expectations. This doesn’t mean spend a lot of money, this means think differently about how to go above and beyond what guests are expecting to get our of your event or experience. 
     
  3. Create small unexpected moments that will delight. It may sound cliché, but these are the moments and the stories that will get shared over and over. 

Who knows…you may end up sharing some laughs over a stack of My Little Pony temporary tattoos. I did, and it will stick with me forever.

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3 ways to be a better employer

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3 ways to be a better employer

After 8 years and a handful of companies, I left the world of a full-time employment to start my own consulting business. A bit of a risk, it offered the possibility of flexibility, happiness, and the ability for me to follow my dream of owning my own company. But, I have no idea how to manage a company, let alone employees. So, I sat down to think about my experience as an employee to identify experiences that stood out to help me drive my company pillars.

1. Your employees (AND INTERNS) are the key to your business. Keep them happy.
A 1-way ticket to the city that never sleeps left me working at a boutique design firm in midtown Manhattan where I spent 3 years learning how to work in a small team setting–creating brand identities, building websites, and working one-on-one with genius engineers. I was invited to the owner's Thanksgivings, received a free flight home to be with my family when a family member passed, treated to free Friday lunches (where we ate together, as a "work family"), and never worked past 6pm. Not only did I learn a ton about work ethics, I learned about how to be a good employer (for when I manage my future company). Five years after leaving the company, I'm still welcomed back to the office with a laughter and hugs.

Mind blocks are rarely solved staring at four white walls eating a bag of free office nuts.

2. Foster a creative environment that employees are excited to work in.
From a very young age we are told to put our "out of the box" ideas away and get to work, but this only hampers our abilities to solve any type of problem in new and creative ways. Some of my favorite memories are working with colleagues (during work hours!) to solve brain teaser IQ puzzles and illustrating amazing works of art on a simple dry erase board. Environments that spawn exploration, ideation, and team/personal problem solving boost employee satisfaction. When employees are put in situations outside of a specific work context, different types of discussions emerge–we build stronger bonds, exercise empathy, and learn how to be team players. So, get out the Legos, K’nex, Pictionary, or Crayola makers. Mind blocks are rarely solved staring at four white walls eating a bag of free office nuts.

Conduct proper applicant research. You can gather a lot more about someone during a conversation than by browsing a resume or portfolio.

3. Hire the "right" person the first time.
At a new start-up one thing you learn is that employee turn-over is happening at an extremely accelerated rate. Yes, hiring is an extremely difficult process of fitting the pieces together–making sure the applicant has the proper skills, personality, and ambition to be a part of your team. In several cases my employer made spur of the moment hires because we were low on staff for a project or under a tight deadline. Unfortunately, those hires didn't always work out and many where let go. This constant hire/fire cycle caused our entire office to live on the edge of our seat wondering if we would be the next one to get left go. This situation is 100% preventable. Make all candidates meet the entire team (in person). Ask them to talk about their work process, their interactions as part of past teams, what makes them happiest. Conduct proper applicant research. You can gather a lot more about someone during a conversation than by browsing a resume or portfolio. 

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Yes, I got a Windows phone, and I loved it

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Yes, I got a Windows phone, and I loved it

The year was 2008.

Obama was elected President, Bill Gates retired, The Dark Knight topped charts, Bernie Mac died, and Proposition 8 didn't pass. And me, I got my first BlackBerry. Yes, one of those plastic track-ball QWERTY keyboard things of yesteryear. In my favorite color, red, of course. Yes, I was that one annoying train commuter that passionately tapped away on my keys. I'm pretty sure I saw a few of your death stares. But I didn't care. I had BBM and the fastest fingers on the East coast. 

I loved my Curve. It fit my "semi-professional" personality and skyrocketed my soft skills--well, mostly my social networking skills. I captured and shared photos of my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, cliche sunsets, preferred alcoholic drinks, and gratuitous mirror self portraits (don't laugh, you know you've done it too). Yet, after all of those photos I was still never able to figure out how that small little mirror thing on the back of the phone was suppose to be useful. Maybe it was just me? Bueller? Bueller?

Despite the fact that my trackball would mysteriously stop working every now and then (and by "mysterious" I mean that part of my lunch got stuck in it) or my home screen would freeze, I was usually able to do a quick battery pull and BAM! Reboot quick fix. 

I could certainly go on about how the battery life outlasted me on crazy nights at the bar, the calendar never failed to remind me about important events (most of which I probably didn't want to attend), or the extensive amount of irrelevant contact information I could enter (because I definitely need to remember Michael and Ania's anniversary date). But, the reality was that after two years having a screen size comparable to half a post-it-note, I wanted to see more of the world. And I really wanted a faster more accurate map to figure out how to get out of Central Park.

Flip the calendar to 2010.

Touch phones were becoming all the rage. iPhones and Androids were gaining heavy popularity. Everybody wanted apps. Twitter, Netflix, and the infamous Angry Birds. And we can't forget Smurf's Village. (Well, at least I can't.) But to me, apps were just the glitter glue on an amazing piece of art. I wanted an amazing OS. I wanted screen real-estate. I wanted solid industrial design that wouldn't shatter when I dropped it face down on the wicked New York City pavement. And most importantly, I wanted something to make my life better. 

Unfortunately, iPhones had not yet made it to my preferred Verizon network, so switching to a beauty of an Apple product was not in the cards for me. Instead, I stood in my local Verizon store, mesmerized by the huge glossy 4 inch DroidX screens. I was taking photos of anything within range and was nothing less than amazed at how good it made old moldy carpet look. I could actually read web text and scroll to the bottom of the page without using an on-again-off-again roller ball. And, there was a map. A nice, big, beautiful Google map. I think a light from the heavens shown down and angels started singing at that very moment. Forget my QWERTY red BlackBerry, I wanted that thing! 

The DroidX had me at first pixel. My food photos had made the significant jump to high quality, with a side of instagram effects, and I knew which subway line I needed to get home so I didn't end up sleeping on the street with Fred and James (the two rats my boyfriend Arun and I frequented on NYC streets). I could share my content with the entire world--or, more like my 50 twitter followers and a side of Facebook friends. I customized my home screen with a plethora of clocks, alarms, and calendar widgets--because my friends can attest to me being anal about my schedule. At one point I even installed an iPhone theme--yes, I made my Android OS look and function exactly like an iPhone and it confused the hell out of people. I called it quits a few days later when I wanted my Android back.

But, typing on a touch screen was still a bit of a hurdle after using QWERTY for a solid two years, that is, until I met the most incredible input method in the world of mobile technology….Swype. The greatest invention since the leopard print Snuggie, I could misspell almost any word and my Android would arrange my thoughts into coherent messages (except when it autocorrects your word "interview" to the word "intercourse"). 

The following year brought advances in my browser use. I installed Chrome on all my devices and realized my life had gotten exponentially spectacular. I jumped from browsers on my laptop to tablet to phone and access was able to access any recently visited/currently open site from any device (Are these things talking to each other?).

Within a year of purchase, my Android quickly became a lagging duck in terms of its technology and hardware. Verizon wasn't pushing out an ICS update to overwrite the dated Gingerbread OS I was running, and lots of other brands had jumped on the Android bandwagon, releasing shiny newer, faster, and more magical devices. 

Despite how painfully slow my Android was towards the end of his life--having to continuously delete photos (no not those kind of photos) and apps (I did have to delete Arun's Sexy Roulette app--wasn't too sad to see that go)--I crossed the finish line of my 2 year contract. 

Fast forward to 2012 

How the battle played out.

I had just spent the past year and a half working as a UI/UX designer at a mobile firm, and while I had the pleasure of working on 60+ mobile applications, I had continuously been mocked for owning the oldest dinosaur device in the cave. Apparently everyone thought Project Manager Asma's shattered iPhone was still a better option than my Android device (never mind the stitches she probably needed after answering my last call).

Needless to say, I had no shortage of opinions on which device I should get. 

Arun, my iOS/Android/Windows Phone/BlackBerry developer boyfriend, had recently purchased the Nokia Lumia 920 and confessed his undying devotion to the recently revamped Windows Phone OS. I guess anyone who drops $600 to purchase an off contract phone has a darn good reason to love (aka: justify) what they just spent a small fortune on. 

Arun's pocket change bought him the best camera a mobile device could offer--to which my heart skipped a beat or three (for the camera, obviously). And I could not deny that the hardware had seriously taken a jump from boring conservative to seductive. At that point, I couldn't tell which I was more attracted to--my boyfriend or the device. The interactions were well executed, experiences optimized for personal pleasure, and the UI modernized for the designer in all of us. Now, never mind the low count on apps in the marketplace. As long as they had snapchat…oh, wait…

Then there was counter-culture biz analyst Moca, also known as the self-proclaimed iPhone5-til-death-do-us-part iOS lover (yeah, a mouthful of poppycock). As much as I liked to disagree with every word that fell out of his mouth, I had to agree with him just this once. Yes, Apple's new iPhone5 was the biggest and bad-assiest iPhone released to date. The iPhone5 was seamlessly integrated into the Apple ecosystem, displayed stunning pixel-perfect UI on its retina display, packed in a processor that was so fast it should've been doomed illegal, and not to mention the actual device itself--I was drooling design love. And we can't forget the app store. What you say? There's an app for that? Well, apparently, there was no app to help me choose a mobile phone. But, Moca still made me keep the iPhone5 as a heavyweight contender.

Across the hall from Moca, in the developer cave, sat some of the smartest people I have ever known. I'm pretty sure I out-yeared quite a few of them, but what are years anyway? Android design guidelines commander in chief, Chaitanya, never failed at making sure I followed all of Google's UX rules. (Just an FYI Chaitanya: rules are meant to be broken.) Some days I purposely made awful UX decisions just to add fuel to his fire. But, in the few instances when Chaitanya wasn't making me sport a UX dunce cap, he would offer up bite-size insights (and by bite-size I mean 20 minute rants) on why Android would always supersede Apple in the marketplace. After a few glasses of Pinot Grigio, I don't think I could disagree with a word that fell out of his mouth. (I couldn't tell if it was the wine or his thoughts I agreed with.) But, those heated bar debates brought to light some key items that I did end up embracing about the Android platform. I loved the idea of NFC (near field communication, kids). While I don't think people have quite yet harnessed its potential, it's definitely going to be huge, some day. And helloooooo expandable storage! No more deleting MBs to make my system process my actions faster. Um, yes, please? Wait, Chaitanya, did you say "multi-tasking"? Two things...at once? Someone help me up, I think I just fainted.

For weeks I had been meticulously analyzing my phone prospects. Samsung Galaxy Note2? iPhone5? Windows HTC 8x? Pros. Cons. Future expansion for the platforms. Innovative technologies. UI. UX. Hardware. And in the end, despite the fact that the other 5 members of my immediate family opted for the iPhone5, I decided to jump ship and chose a device I truly believed I would still love and cherish 2 years from now. I ordered up a shiny new Windows Phone HTC 8X. No, it wasn't an easy decision (especially when I get left out of all of the FaceTime conversations--thanks guys), but after a month of heavy usage, I am confident that I made the right decision, for me.

 

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