Terms of Service for a Survey

I recently got asked to take a satisfaction survey after staying at a hotel on the way back from UX Lisbon. The hotel stay was great. The satisfaction survey… well, the survey itself wasn’t so bad. But the odd thing was that before I could submit the survey, I had to check a box indicating that I accepted their terms of service.

survey TOSYes, that’s right, there were terms of service on that survey. Apparently, I couldn’t answer any of the questions with plagiarized material. Or give them any abusive answers. Or else… I guess they’d deny my use of the survey?

It’s just such a weird concept. If you take it seriously, it’s at odds with the idea of doing research, because when you’re doing user research, you want… well, you want to find out what people are thinking. Even if they’re super upset. So weird.

The Terrible Experience of Getting an American Passport

To get to UX Lisbon, I needed to get my first passport in years and years. It turns out getting a passport in the USA is a process that they manage to screw up at almost every step.

For starters, I can’t do this online. In 2015. The idea that I can’t access a wide range of government services from a computer, at my convenience, is ridiculous. No, instead I had to leave work early and show up between 9:00am and 3:00pm. Apparently the township clerk office provided these hours because they had to wrap up the paperwork before the postal service picked up the mail. Because they couldn’t hold the paperwork overnight. Because… well, there’s no real reason for that. The clerk said “because that’s the policy” which is basically another way to say “because screw you, that’s why.”

I filled out this paperwork by hand. Which means that when this physical form arrived at some office, someone had to type it in before they could use computers to check to see if I’m some sort of enemy of America. The clerk also had to take my picture, and print it out, and staple that picture to the form. Because… that’s a thing we’re doing in 2015? I mean, the thought that there are devices that will take pictures and then send digital copies of those pictures anywhere is crazy, right?

I also had to include a copy of my birth certificate. The one copy I have – a delicate, worn piece of paper from decades ago. A forgeable scrap of paper that somehow proves that someone with my name was born in the USA. Because… what, it’s impossible to keep these records online? Somehow, Amazon can figure out if I have an account but the USA can’t look up in a database to find out if I’m a citizen.

To top it all off, I had to write a great big check for over a hundred dollars for the privilege of filling out this paperwork. Because obviously funding government services through a system of taxation would just be bizarre, am I right? Oh, wait, I do pay taxes. A lot of them. For all sorts of garbage that I find morally repugnant. I just don’t pay taxes for some person sitting in an office to type in the data from my paperwork, I guess, even though we wouldn’t even need this person to type the data if we did this online, which we would in a sane system.

So, to summarize: We can spend trillions of dollars to wage disastrous imperialist wars overseas, but we can’t figure out how to make a system that would make life easier for Americans and not actually hurt anyone.

What’s the deal with “user testing?”

While I’m on the subject of language that bothers me, what’s the deal with “user testing?”

People harping about the phrase “user testing” is old news. As far as I can tell, it’s something that a few people care about a lot, and that most people do not even think about. When I hear people outside the game use the phrase, I cringe a little bit; when I hear fellow user experience professionals, particularly experienced ones, use the phrase, it really bothers me.

So, the classic argument: We’re not testing the users. We’re testing the usability of the interface. Or testing whether the user experience fits with what we were designing for. Of course, no one thinks we’re actually testing users, but words matter. How we say things matter. When we have a choice between an easily used ambiguous phrase (“user testing”) and an easily used unambiguous phrase (“usability testing”), let’s go with the one that cannot be mistaken.

“User Experience” Is Not a Thing You Can See

When did people start using the phrase “user experience” when they really mean “design?” As in “I’d like you to show me the mockups of the new user experience” or “that website recently came out with a new user experience.”

I mean, seriously.

In a sense, though, I suppose that in changing the design, the experience of the user is, of course, different. But the user’s experience is a property that emerges from the user’s interaction of a bunch of things that includes the actual design of the artifact. Unless someone has gone to the trouble of not just redesigning the website, but also the user’s browser, computer, environment, senses, and brain, to name a few things, then you can’t really go see the new user experience.

And really, how can you ever “see” a user experience just by looking at a picture or by clicking around on a newly designed website.

The best I can figure is that it’s yet another case of buzzwords gone horribly wrong. There is an increasing sense that “user experience” is important—that it’s important to design for good user experiences, to have user experience professionals kicking around the office. Somehow, maybe, that got reduced to “user experience = design.”

But it’s as annoying as saying “user testing.”

UX Lisbon 2015

I’m off to Portugal!

I’m presenting a workshop, twice, called “Web Analytics for User Experience.” It’s the next generation of material I last presented at UXPA 2013. I wasn’t fully satisfied with the direction I went in for that workshop, so when I was invited to UX Lisbon, I decided early on to take the gig very seriously and to start over on the workshop.

I’m satisfied with what I put together. Web analytics is a big, complicated topic. The tools themselves are the most boring part. The magic is in thinking about quantitative data, which is something that UX people don’t necessarily get a lot of experience at. But we can be quite good at it because we tend to be pretty analytical people.

This is my first trip to Portugal and my first trip to Europe and my first time leaving the country in years! It’s going to be exciting.

A Talk Idea

Conference season is always upon us, and as my talks always seem to get rejected by conferences, I’m always trying to think of new ideas to pitch. I’ve kind of gotten away from the analytics topic—it seems like ever since 2013, I haven’t managed to get anyone to take one of those talk submissions (on the other hand, though, I’ve certainly been invited to talk on analytics, so I don’t get what’s up with the market right now). Lately, I’ve tried to think of more process-oriented things.

An idea that occurred to me the other night is to talk about something that I do think I know a lot about at this point: organizing a professional event. There’s a lot that goes into it! Finding a venue, figuring out the revenue aspect, potentially finding sponsors, promoting the talk, dividing up work, handling money. More and more stuff.

I don’t want to give anyone the idea that I’m not still figuring this stuff out, even now. But I do think I’ve learned a lot on the topic. While I think it’s possible for any dedicated person to organize an event, hearing about others’ experience is going to make it a lot easier. We’ll see if any conferences actually think this would be a good idea.

The Political Dimension of Design

The most recent issue of Jacobin had an interesting article by Eden Mesina from Indiana University on the Cybersyn project. To put it briefly: in the days of Chile’s democratically elected socialist government in the 1970s, they built a computer system to help them manage the economy. It collected data from all over the country while trying to preserve privacy and autonomy at the local level.

There is, of course, a political dimension to research and design, and this story is a good illustration. We can design tools to enforce existing power structures, or in service of new ones. For public good or for exploitation.

Mesina makes passing reference in this article to some amount of user centered design that went into Cybersyn. Apparently the designer, Stafford Beer, worked with actual workers from factories to build this system. I would have liked to have learned more about that, but I can understand that my interest there isn’t necessarily a common one.

Agile & BEYOND!!

On Thursday and Friday, April 30th and May 1st, I was at Agile & Beyond (or, as I mentally refer to it, Agile & BEYOND!) in Dearborn. The conference doubled in length this year, making for two solid days of pretty good talks on Agile and Agile-friendly topics.

The question of how to integrate with Agile has been at the top of the collective UX mind for years, at this point. There seems to be an insatiable appetite for people asking and talking about how we can work in Agile. Maybe it comes down to there just being new UX people encountering Agile for the first time, year after year, as their organizations adopt Agile or the UXer enters the workforce. Maybe it also comes down to the flexible nature of Agile – as a methodology that embraces adaptation, perhaps it’s more slippery than many other concepts.

While UX is talking about Agile, Agile sure doesn’t seem to be talking about UX, at least based on the sessions of this conference that I went to. If this conference was all I had to go on, there doesn’t seem to be any need for effective user research or any recognition that design is something that gets better when people deeply engage with it. When there was talk of usability, it was as though it was a commodity (“and then get some usability at the end”), and there was some talk of personas, as though they are a thing that magically appears.

Ultimately, this lack of visibility is on us. If people don’t recognize what user experience specialists can bring to the (figurative) table, then we simply have to make it more clear.

Ignite UX Michigan Returns!

Just a quick note this time: Ignite UX Michigan is coming back! Planning has gotten underway for this year’s event, and this year looks like it’ll be our best organized year yet. Which isn’t that hard to manage, since this is only the third year.

Last year was a valuable experience in breaking off pieces of the work and trusting it to other people. Not that we were hesitant to do so—it was more the case that in the first year, we just didn’t know exactly what the work would be shaped like. This year, we’ve got more volunteers, and I think part of the challenge will be keeping things organized and keeping everybody engaged with as much stuff as they want to do.

Oh, and the event will be in September this time. That’s because starting in 2016, we’re going to permanently move to the Winter semester.

More details to come!

No More IxDA Lansing

E7B0CF8F-2A7D-4DB5-A80C-AC5686CE030CIt looks like IxDA Lansing is in trouble. Their web presence was diffuse, so it’s hard to track down the authoritative place for information, but it looks like their page on the IxDA website hasn’t been updated in a long time, their own domain name has expired, their Twitter account is highly inactive, and their Meetup group no longer has an organizer.

This is a shame, because even when Michigan’s state-wide UX organizations were a lot more active, they never served Lansing (and Grand Rapids) as well as Metro Detroit and the Ypsilanti area. It’s good to have a way for local professionals to meet up on a regular basis, although the downside of a proliferation of groups is that the few people that will volunteer time get spread more and more thinly (like butter over too much bread).

I can see (what looks like) IxDA Lansing shutting down as part of a pretty broad trend away from organized professional groups in our field. We have a lot of alternatives for professional development, and a lot of ways to stay in touch with other people in the field. And asking people to do stuff after work, in their free time, to further their career is a hard thing to ask (and kind of exploitative, but that’s just the nature of the system we live in).

(Also, the decline of professional organizations ties into a question that interests me greatly: What is a profession, and are we one?)

IxDA Lansing, it was good to have you around.