ConveyUX in February 2016

It looks like I’ll be going to Seattle in February 2016!

I’ll be teaching a workshop on Web Analytics for User Experience at ConveyUX. It’ll be an iteration on what I taught at UX Lisbon. Who knows what an extra year of thought will produce?

I really value these opportunities to share what I know about the topic of using web analytics for user research. It’s an important tool for us to have in our toolkits, but it’s outside the comfort zone for a lot of folks in the user experience field. However, it’s nothing we can’t handle!

This will be my first trip to Seattle, so that’s a bonus. I’ve often wondered if the Pacific Northwest is for me, so this trip will help answer that question.

Thoughts on UX Lisbon 2015

A few weeks ago, I went to Portugal for the first time to attend UX Lisbon. It was a good conference, and not just because I gave two workshops there!

The conference had three days—the first and the third consisted solely of half day workshops, and the second day was a continuous series of talks. I gave my analytics workshop on the first and third day. It was exhausting but worth it. You get things out of teaching that you just don’t get any other way. I had the chance to do a lot of thinking about how to present the material and that’s going to pay off soon.

The lineup of speakers on the second day was great. I find that lately, I want to see short talks that will provoke thought rather than practically useful talks, because there just isn’t that much room to impart practical information in 30-60 minute timeslots. Lisa Welchman and Josh Seiden kicked off the day with two solid talks. I wasn’t familiar with Lisa before the conference and information governance is at a nice intersection of being super interesting and super important. The downside of a talk like this, and other ones that call for us to engage in changing the world, is that they assume a level of power that you rarely see in the world of UX.

I had the chance to see a short talk by someone from Facebook, talking about how they managed the transition of forcing people to download Messenger, and how disabling a feature in the Facebook app was actually an improvement for users. I politely listened—there’s no sense in heckling someone when they’re giving a talk.

Why Ignite UX Michigan?

Why have Ignite UX Michigan? Because diversity is important.

When you look at UX conferences, you see a lot of the same people headlining, over and over. There are more people that are worth hearing from in our community, and we’re not going to hear from them unless we make an environment where it’s possible.

Making an environment with more voices means extending opportunities to speak to more people, obviously. While Ignite UX Michigan doesn’t have that far of a reach, what we can offer is an opportunity to gain experience speaking, to try out one’s ideas on an actual audience. I would love to see Ignite UX Michigan as an early stop on someone’s speaking career.

User Researchers Are Important

“Usability testing doesn’t have to be done in labs, doesn’t require experts, and doesn’t have to be expensive.”

So says Greg Nudelman in his article for UX Magazine, “How to Perform Your Own Lean Mobile Testing.” And, all right, yes, it definitely does not have to be done in labs. It does not have to be expensive. But with regard to experts….

Well, garbage in, garbage out. A bit of user research is better than no research at all and this Nudelman guy is right that you shouldn’t give up on research if you don’t have the expert researcher. What he minimizes, though, is the risk of research when you don’t know what you’re doing. And getting bad data can be worse than no data.

What Nudelman would have you believe is that his five tips for mobile usability testing is all you need to get started. I’m sorry, but it’s not that simple. It takes training and practice to create experiments that actually answer the right questions, to work with research participants, and to effectively analyze the data. And conducting bad research runs the risk of giving user research a bad reputation when that bad research leads people down the wrong path.

What really gets me about this article, though, are passages like these:

Over 3000 years ago, people believed that the priestess of Oracle of Delphi was the only person who could deliver enigmatic prophecies from the mouth of Apollo. Today, many people believe a similar myth: that only a professional usability researcher can deliver the straight dope from the mouth of customers.

Please direct me to some of these people that hold user research in such high esteem. It would be very exciting to get taken that seriously.

Don’t get me wrong: having a professional usability researcher on your team is just fantastic. However, limiting your testing to a few hours done through this one “official channel” is contrary to the entire spirit of user experience work. The entire product team is responsible for the experience your customers will have with your product.

I’m not really clear on how having the entire product team invested in the experience of users is incompatible with having a specialist on the team to facilitate the research. If expertise doesn’t matter, why have experts of any kind? Or is there just something particularly un-challenging about user research?

It’s true that some UX teams have separate designer and user testing roles. However, in most highly functional UX teams, the roles tend to be much more intertwined: everyone fully participates in user research to the best of their ability. Furthermore, user research is not treated as a separate activity to be undertaken only by the exalted usability researchers, but instead, it becomes the center of the design process and the focus of the entire team.

Again, please direct me to these people that feel that researchers are worthy of exaltation. Seriously, I don’t understand the need for this tone. Any good researcher wants the entire team to be involved in research. The role is not to take over research and conduct it in isolation, it is to facilitate this important part of product development in the context of the team.

Imagine the same article, but substitute “developer” for “user researcher.”

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.