The UX / Account Dynamic

Who are you?

When someone promises to do great work for you, you want to know who that person is. But to clients, a UX team is often completely anonymous.

Successful UX work for clients depends on two things:

  • Understanding: You have to be able to engage with the client1-on-1, to truly understand their needs.
  • TrustClients have to feel that they can trust you, and rely on you to do great work for them.

Understanding

For UX to truly understand the client, you can’t rely solely on second- or third-hand information. You have to ask questions, and allow the client to explain things to you. Many times, solutions are defined in direct conversations with clients, and vice versa: mistakes often occur through misunderstandings due to a lack of communication.

Trust

For the client to trust you, they have to know who you are, get a sense that you understand them, and be able to interact with you directly in order to feel confident that you know what you’re doing. There is little reason for a client to trust the UX abilities of an agency based only on interactions with Account- or Project Management.

The UX Engagement – opening or closing?

When you can demonstrate that you understand the client’s needs, it expands the client engagement.

When the client feels you don’t understand them, it reduces their trust in you, and the engagement starts to shrink.

When the engagement is wide, you have a productive, direct and collaborative relationship that fosters more trust, and yields stronger results, possibly leading to more business opportunities.

When the engagement is narrow, the communication suffers and more mistakes are made, causing more distrust, which puts the entire client relationship at risk, possibly leading to a loss of business.

How can you improve?

If you are noticing signs that the client engagement is shrinking, you need to act quickly and decisively, analyze you we think this is happening, and take action to improve the situation.

Here are some suggestions:


  1. POSSIBLE CAUSE: Your work is inadequate. Depending on the amount of disagreement you’re getting from a client, you have to consider the possibility that the work you’re producing is simply not good enough. If this is indeed the case, you need to be honest about that, and talk about what can be done to get better. If you never talk about it, you cannot improve!

    LIKELIHOOD: low 

    SOLUTION: Reassign people internally to optimize your staffing on the account, and note where you need to improve through future hires. You can also consider bringing in contractors if you have enough lead time, and can identify specifically which skillsets are lacking. However, it should be understood that there is often an inertia inherent in this approach, if there are financial barriers to hiring, and/or a lack of visibility into upcoming projects. Also, UX resources are very much in demand at the moment, so securing premium talent can be very costly.

    What UX can do: Engage with you to identify the competences that are missing (or lacking), and determine whether reassignment or hiring would be the most appropriate action.


  2. POSSIBLE CAUSE: You fail to ”sell” the client on your solutions. You may not be engaging with the client in a sufficiently convincing manner when you are presenting, and in trying to explain why you have chosen a certain solution.

    LIKELIHOOD: high

    SOLUTION: Agencies often tend to either send over deliverables via email, or present via screen-share and conference phone. This is far from ideal when you need to win the client over for a specific solution. Where you need to assert confidence, instill trust and convey enthusiasm about what you have to present, you should be there in person. If you can’t be, then you need to at least ensure that our presentations are solid, and not rushed through in 30-minute phone calls (which is the industry rule rather than the exception).

    What UX can do: Help you develop a convincing presentation, and present to the client.


  3. POSSIBLE CAUSE: You fail to properly explain the solutions you’re proposing. It is possible that you are devoting an insufficient amount of attention to explaining how you intend for your solutions to work.  (Also, see #4 below)

    LIKELIHOOD: medium

    SOLUTION: (see #4 below)

    What UX can do: Help you produce write-ups that document our proposals better, and supply visual presentation materials to better clarify the solution. We can also assist you in presenting directly to the client as needed.


  4. POSSIBLE CAUSE: The client simply does not understand. It is also possible that the client, due to issues on their own side, simply cannot relate to what you’re trying to present. This could be a lack of prior experience with these solutions, or a lack of focus on what you’re trying to solve for, or possibly a lack of buy-in.

    LIKELIHOOD: medium

    SOLUTION: You may need to educate the client better on what you’re doing. For specific purposes, where you need the client’s buy-in on a more complicated solution, you may need to prototype functionality, or provide the client with a reference URL to a similar solution. At the very least, you need to have a solid write-up of how you intend for the solution to work, and Account would be well within their rights to request that UX produce such a write-up. It is a mistake for Account to undertake this task themselves, not just because UX is better suited for it, but because UX’s absence in the rationalization of our solutions may actually make the client extra skeptical (see #5 below).

    What UX can do: Produce more detailed write-ups. Research similar solutions and supply more background materials, to make the solution clearer, and put your recommendations in context.


  5. POSSIBLE CAUSE: The client does not trust you as subject matter experts. The client may compare you unfavorably to other agencies they have worked with, or they may simply be untrusting: their internal dynamics may cause them to not want to trust external partners in general.

    LIKELIHOOD: high

    SOLUTION: First of all, you need to continuously iterate how well your programs are performing, if there is no reason to suspect that your UX solutions are leaving a lot of conversions on the table. Second, you need to affirm that you see your role as being strategic, and consultative: it is your job to offer recommendations. In particular, to ensure that the client doesn’t feel like you’re just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, you should strive to support our solutions with reference examples from other projects, and also share insights outside of the cadence of regular projects. It is also important to leverage the expertise you have in-house when you present. The person who develops a solution is usually the best one to present it, or at least speak to it. An “outsider” cannot always adequately speak to the rationale behind a solution, or imbue the presentation with the same belief in the solution as one who actually worked on it. Building respect for your abilities with the client has to start with internally respecting the professionals behind those abilities.

    What UX can do: Help connect the dots between the goals and the results, and remove some of the subjectivity.


  6. POSSIBLE CAUSE: The client likes to micromanage their agencies. Not all clients are collaborative by nature, and some may simply feel more comfortable directing what you’re doing to a greater extent than other clients. This is not necessarily a problem, if the required direction actually materializes, and is clear and intelligible. If it’s not, you’re basically stuck with a client who knows what they want, but is not very good at articulating what that is, which may cause you to go back and forth an excessive number of times to get things right.

    LIKELIHOOD: high

    SOLUTION: This requires some coaching, to get the client to commit to what it is they want – preferably in writing, by requiring more formalized creative briefs, but also by requiring consolidated feedback, in a pre-defined number of rounds (see #7 below).

    What UX can do: Provide tools and deliverables with which to manage the review and approval processes, and ensure the fidelity in what is presented in the early stages, so that it is also reflected in what is delivered (example: prototypes). For this reason, I recommend not relying on mock-ups, since they will inevitably be less accurate and cause discrepancies which may further cause doubt and uncertainty.


  7. POSSIBLE CAUSE: The client changes their minds a lot. It is possible that the client is not thinking through their responses prior to delivering them, or that they are not all on the same page, or that they simply have a hard time making consistent decisions, for whatever reason.

    LIKELIHOOD: medium

    SOLUTION: This problem requires a more formalized approach to reviews, possibly using formal approval documents that require the client’s signature, and you also need to express clearly how many times the client is allowed to ask for edits, and what the costs are for edits that go beyond that limit. If there are no costs, or if those costs are not clearly communicated, the client is not properly incentivized to keep rounds of revisions down, and may continue to revise indefinitely.

    What UX can do: Provide more structure in how you manage feedback and rounds of revisions, with the aid of a task management and issue tracking system. Push back when feedback is incomplete or inconsistent, and point out where you need more details, or have questions.


  8. POSSIBLE CAUSE: You don’t always present to the right people. In many cases, clients may bring in other people to weigh in on what you have presented after the fact. Such is usually the case with client brand- or compliance teams, for instance. In other cases, you may only get to present to a few of the people who should have been present for the presentation.

    LIKELIHOOD: high

    SOLUTION: You should be more deliberate about who you need to present to, and not allow presentations to happen when there are notable absentees on the client’s side. You have to be able to hold them accountable for feedback when you, in return, are spending time producing things to review. You’re well within your rights to ask that presentations be rescheduled when the right people can’t be present. You also need to ask that you be allowed to interface directly with brand- or compliance teams, because they often get to have a disproportionate say over what goes on, especially when they’re involved by proxy. These are people with a mandate to demand changes if things are not aligned with their standards, but they are also the very people who can assent to a compromises when that is appropriate.

    What UX can do: Engage with client brand and marketing teams to ensure you’re speaking the same language.


How can UX help?

UX teams typically have a broad menu of services and activities that can be used to address many of the challenges you might face with a client. It is for you to inform yourself of and review those activities, and decide which initiatives would be beneficial to the relationship with the client, both in a strategic and in a tactical perspective.

What can you do?

As an Account Manager, build bridges – don’t create silos. Partner with UX and project management, to engage in a more open dialogue, and facilitate a mutual exchange of understanding and trust. Don’t restrict client access. Champion your internal capabilities. Celebrate your successes. Everyone wins as a team.

 

Users First

“Mobile first” sound the tendentious battle cries of UX designers worldwide, suggesting that user experience design now supposedly needs to begin with mobile experiences, and build outwards from there.

I can think of at least three succinct reasons why that dictate is wrong:

First, it puts the device before the user, which is not meaningful. As designers, we are not engaging with devices, but with human beings. Do we really know that all users consistently favor small, mobile, high-resolution viewports over large, widescreen ones? I submit that the answer is no, because any such knowledge is contingent on not just awareness of user preferences, but user needs, user behaviors, and environmental circumstances, which are never consistently the same. Besides, even when factoring in these shifting parameters, we also have to consider the needs and intentions of our clients, for whom we are trying to make this interaction happen. We cannot assume that “mobile first” always makes sense in that context either.

We are currently seeing not only a convergence of web based experiences displayed on increasingly smaller devices, but a simultaneous divergence, where screens are also becoming larger – virtually all of them wired, and sometimes even interconnected.

We cannot assume anything about users until we know who they are, and what they are trying to do. This, in turn, will dictate which devices they will be using, and that should be what guides our designs – not dogmatic assumptions based on device classifications that are pre-destined to lose relevance.

Second, the statement “Mobile first” makes an implicit assumption about just what “mobile” means. The device landscape is changing so rapidly that the term itself is quickly becoming obsolete. In an age of ultralight laptops, netbooks, ”phablets” and smartwatches, just what is a “mobile device”, really?

There are mobile phones that are straddling the divide between handheld and tablet devices, both in terms of size and resolution, and there are miniature, wearable devices whose resolutions we can assume will become higher and higher in order for those devices to display more information. At the same time, there are medium sized, often lower-resolution wireless touchscreens built into appliances and cars, where display characteristics may sometimes resemble mobile devices, even though they are often fixed, and usage is entirely different from that associated with smartphones. And there are both lower and higher resolution large screen devices and projection screens that blur the boundaries even further.

This means that we cannot, and should not, lock down user experience design to one type of screen, or size. We need to design for flexibility, but even more, we need to understand how users will be accessing our experiences, and what is most important to them. Since this is very much a moving target, the combination of mobility and compact screen size will not always top the list, of that we can be certain.

Third, we must realize that, not only are device classifications increasingly arbitrary and meaningless, but that the concepts of screen size and resolution – indeed, the very concept of human-computer interaction – are equally elusive. User experience cannot be locked down to a fixed pixel density, or a certain set of screen proportions – we are even seeing the merger of digital projections and physical reality; of the two- and the three-dimensional.

User experience, especially as it relates to screen projection, is relative, and depends not only on the physical properties of the screen in question – whether a pair of eye glass lenses, or a large projection screen – but also on the user’s distance to the screen, how the user is interacting with what is displayed there, and the various environmental circumstances at play.

This is why we need to change the mantra, from “Mobile first” to “Users first”.

What matters first and foremost to users is content, not the device on which this content is displayed. And how that content is structured, hierarchically as well as visually, also matters more to them than the technology used to display it. Even the visual presentation of the content matters more than the device, since the presentation is to some extent intrinsic to the content itself, and how it is intended to be perceived and experienced. The device is merely a facilitator in this perspective.

Therefore, the due process we need to observe is content before structure before style.

Defining the content is the designer’s number one priority. Without content, there is nothing to design, and without content to guide the design, it simply becomes meaningless fluff, regardless of the device used to deliver the experience. Once we have determined the content that will best serve users’ needs, aggregating the entirety of our content, and judging the value of it by virtue of Occam’s proverbial razor, we can proceed to shape it, and adapt it to the different rendering formats.

Realizing that design is first and foremost a process of reduction, the designer always sculpts the specific, smaller shape from the larger, unspecific whole; always crops and trims the desired view from the bigger picture. This is, ultimately, why user experience design can never truly be “mobile first”. Mobile, whatever we mean by that, may possibly be the desired end state of a given design, the terminus of our design journey, but it should never be the starting point.

We need to see the whole to define its most granular pieces, and determine their respective proportions, placements and relationships. We must outline an overall composition before we can craft the pieces that comprise it. We cannot build blindly outward by accumulating and assembling fragments; an artist does not create an image by cloning and repeating small sections, but rather composes a holistic experience by sketching in the most prominent components first, and filling in the details later. We must identify the smaller building blocks within the context of the bigger construct, and define the different ways in which they fit together. If we don’t, we are essentially improvising buildings by piecing bricks together, rather than first drawing up blueprints on which to base our constructions.

Hence, starting from a site-wide perspective, the designer should always first seek to define the content as a whole, distilling it into the total number of unique views necessary to contain the experience, classifying shared, global, re-useable content blocks as well as individual pieces of content; then whittling down experiences until able to look at individual pages, and components of pages. It is in this larger context that the mobile experience can be found. Eventually, the designer will arrive at the most purposeful, granular visual structure – or layout – as part of a holistic system of design elements, first and foremost tailored to the user’s needs, scalable up or down, as needed.

Not until we have shaped our content in this reductive fashion, and structured it both hierarchically and spatially, can we begin to apply style, or “look-and-feel”, to our design, down to the individual graphic elements. Only then can we start moving from defining content, and making content accessible and digestible, to also making it palatable and persuasive.

At this point, the devices used to render our experiences should pretty much be inconsequential; a natural selection produced by a deliberate, result-oriented process. Whether our user experiences are best suited for a smartwatch, smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop computer, or a TV screen, should really be determined primarily by user and content considerations, ideally allowing the intentions of the sender and the needs of the recipient to meet in a mutually beneficial, equally purposeful harmonious whole.

The Case Against Minimalism

Being a graphic designer, carving out a livelihood in a field so mired in visual subjectivity and aesthetic dogma, I find it impossible to navigate the professional landscape without comparing myself to other designers, and framing my own style in relation to other styles; other design paradigms.

Something I have struggled with for a very long time is the predominant preference amongst designers towards minimalism – the stern and unforgiving principle of less-is-more. It does not agree with me, or perhaps it is I who do not agree with it. And this despite my being Swedish, growing up in the Land of Minimalism, where white and off-white are sometimes your only available color choices.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the appeal of simplicity very well, and know its ins and outs well enough to pretend-design the odd minimalist pastiche here and there. But it never feels quite right to me, and it is as much an intellectual disagreement as an emotional one.

I am a humanist at heart and I believe design is in essence a way of connecting people through aesthetics; of communicating with images and telling stories through visual metaphors. In that perspective, I simply cannot accept that human nature and minimalism are compatible.  We are not simple organisms and our psyches are not simplistic. I think that we, as human beings, live our lives to a large extent through the details, in the many nooks and crannies of human existence. I believe we are fundamentally closer to being sensual, self-indulgent hoarders than ascetic monks living in austere sensory deprivation.

This is not to say simplicity in visual expression has no value. For us as humans to be able to learn and evolve, we sometimes need clarity, reduction, precision. But it is a very restricted need that does not merit exposure in many circumstances beyond education and instruction. A large part of the human need for communication is founded in emotions, in our hardwired emotional resonance with themes and stories that connect us to the universe – the big, beautiful, complex universe. If our ancestors were truly visual minimalists, they would have left those cave walls alone. The urge to scribble, to doodle, is a profoundly human one.

To be perfectly frank, I find minimalism to be somewhat fascist in nature. It dictates the eradication of visual impulses that the designer’s super-ego conformistically rules to be superfluous to an imagined singular, simplistic purpose, even though any form of communication is a two-way street and really ought to strive to open up as many touchpoints as possible between sender and recipient, to allow for more ways for us as individuals to relate and connect.

So, before you start singing the praises of the shiny designed new world order of minimalism, recognize in yourself and in others that we aren’t necessarily ruled by a need for straight 90-degree angles, flat surfaces and squeaky clean logic. We are beings with hardwired emotional, sometimes irrational responses, born out of chaos, and we live in a world of endless details, of complex correlations between multitudes of interwoven systems and principles. Simplifying is not necessarily making something more elegant, it can also mean the dumbing-down of something quite sophisticated in its complexity.

Sure, there may be a certain easy, accessible beauty to be found in simplicity but, ultimately, I submit that this is a homogenous beauty quite alien to human nature. There is a greater, more human beauty to be found in chaos, in the details, in the pluralism of a multifaceted world where we suspend judgment and try to assimilate new, more complex, layered impressions.

When we minimize, we exercise a form of intolerance.

(Republished from 2012)

On Creativity

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”
-ALBERT SZENT-GYÖRGYI

1. Creativity
Creativity is a Big word. It is indeed a rare luxury to be allowed to spend each and every day working with ideas and inventions; to be in the middle of the creative process and realize the conceptual embryos that are born in the inner depths of the brain. There is definitely a certain element of magic to it. But this kind of romanticizing makes it very difficult to relate to creativity in a practical, constructive way.

There is definitely a point in demystifying the entire creative process. For many people, the mere word “creativity” evokes an almost voodoo-like mystique, sometimes disenfranchising people and creating a stigma that prevents them from actually thinking creatively. Many people therefore instinctively and defensively reject all creative propositions, perhaps feeling that they are somehow less capable of creative thought than others, as if creativity is somehow a threat to them.

But creativity is not a supernatural force. Inspiration is not some sort of spiritual revelation or magical phenomenon that affects only a select few creative people, like a lightning bolt from above.

Creativity is an attitude. The more openly you approach the creative process, the more creative you will be.

In psychology, it is suggested that the natural creativity we all inhibit as children wears off as we grow up, and are conditioned to obey and follow the rules of society and the expectations of how adults are supposed to behave. In this perspective, the creative process is a method of freeing ourselves from the yoke of these rules, and return to our childlike selves.

2. Of course you are creative!
The first and most important step in the creative process is to shake off all the skepticism and doubt. A person who believes him- or herself to be incapable of creative thinking is very rarely creative. This has very little to do with innate capacity for creativity – you ARE creative. Anyone can plant the seeds of a good idea, it´s just a question of releasing the brain´s associative powers and give the subconscious a little more room to maneuver. This may sound hokey, but basically it’s about relaxing, letting go of that inner critic and freeing oneself from the many mental constraints we are forcing upon ourselves in our daily lives. An idea in itself is just a thought and a thought can never be harmful. But in the world of thoughts, anything is possible.

3. Creativity and spontaneity
True creativity requires a certain amount of spontaneity. This is something that can seem uncomfortable for many people, especially in our inhibited Western intellectual climate. As people, we have a penchant for applying common sense and practical methodology; to submit to unwritten laws and regulations at all times. But creativity rarely germinates in an atmosphere of caution and anxiety. Do not be afraid to make yourself look ridiculous – good ideas are usually born out of spontaneity. Be generous with yourself!

4. Creativity and triviality
A misconception that often stymies the best of creative intentions is the expectation that one´s first ideas will be brilliant. This is very rarely the case. To be creative, you have to allow yourself to make mistakes. Do not be worried if your first ideas are trivial. The brain often requires time to get up to speed – consider it an initial discovery process, where all parameters and facts must be shaken and stirred to blend together. The worst thing you can do at this stage is to begin to censor yourself. Let out the cheapest, most trivial ideas and clear the brain from all its initial superficial associations. Eventually, you will notice that your ideas are gradually becoming more and more discerning and relevant.

5. Creativity and flexibility
The French 19th century philosopher Émile Chartier supposedly said: “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when it’s the only one we have.”

Forget any thoughts of The Perfect Idea. It does not exist, or rather, it will not manifest itself in splendid isolation. Avoid tunnel vision. The path to the truly good, useful ideas lies not in striving for a single optimal solution, but rather in searching for as many potential solutions as possible. Only when you can compare several ideas to each other will you be able to decide which of them are the most appropriate. Do not evaluate your creative efforts too soon. Write down everything, establish categories and seek flexibility. Eventually, you will see a pattern in all the ideas and get a clearer picture of which of them you will be able to build on.

6. Creativity and multitude
It’s very easy to fall in love with one´s ideas. The itch to move on and start realizing those ideas is very hard to resist. That eagerness often tricks people into diving into an idea way too early, which is where the idiom “kill your darlings” comes into play. Imagine that there are always another ten solutions around the corner, at least five of which are going to be better than your last idea.

7. Creativity and tenacity
It is easy to despair when one feels that one has milked the brain of every ounce of creativity it could muster. But not all solutions are simple and obvious. Sometimes, the brain needs a break, to process all the accumulated thoughts. Do not give up if you hit the wall. Take a break and start anew, with fresh thoughts and rejuvenated inspiration.

8. Creativity requires nourishment
Perhaps the biggest fear of every professional designer is to face creative blockage. The way out of this dilemma is to not overstate the problem. This type of mental freeze is very common and almost always the result of the brain not having been given enough nourishment. The brain needs to be fed with new impressions and new input in order to function, much like fuel in a car. Learn to recognize the warning signs when you are trying to create something out of nothing.Take a step back, release your ambitions and seek out new inspiration and information. Eventually, the blockage will clear.

9. Creativity is open source
Creative, collaborative teamwork is very difficult, because the creative process is very tender, and newborn ideas are very delicate. We often feel that criticism of our ideas is equal to criticism of us as individuals. Therefore, the best approach to creative collaboration is to refrain from premature criticism – it is impossible to say when a single idea has reached maturity, and it is usually better to allow it time to solidify and take shape. By doing so, people have time to take stock of their own ideas and become less attached to them. In the end, if the process itself is engaging enough, people may not even always remember who came up with which idea. Everything is shared, and everyone can feel some degree of ownership. That increases the  chance that there can be a consensus on which ideas with which to move forward.

(Republished from February 2013)

UX Best Practices

Overview

Messaging

Deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.

Content

Use content to drive interaction.

User Interface

Ensure a smooth path to content and conversion.

Layout & User Flows

Optimize for conversion while facilitating research.

Mobile (part of Layout)

Enable technology-agnostic user experiences .

Look & Feel

Capture brand awareness while aligning with demographics.

Typography (part of Look & Feel)

Maximize clarity and impact while ensuring brand identity compliance.


Messaging + Content

Structure

A good site structure means it is purposeful, with subpages that drive user engagement. Page structure should present content in a convincing order that moves users to convert.

Messaging

Good messaging supports and drives to the desired response; product benefits and offer details are convincingly presented; a sense of urgency is instilled in users.

Research

A good research score means content drives engagement and facilitates research of products and offers; information is clear and RTB:s convincing; amount of copy well balanced.

CTAs

Good CTAs are strong and compelling; urgency is underlined; benefits of and reasons for taking action are emphasized, and drive action.

Diversity

A good score means content is rich and varied; many different forms of content drive engagement and highlight different aspects of the brand, the products and the offers.

Segmentation

A well segmented user experience has separate pages and/or separate sections devoted entirely to and tailored for specific audience segments.


User Interface

Navigation

Good navigation means menu is well designed and functional; navigation is straight-forward; paths to content are clear and confidence in navigation is high.

Iconography

Good iconography means icons are well designed and purposeful; they facilitate navigation and/or scanning of content; they clarify site structure and/or product offering.

Conversion Point

A good conversion point means the online form and/or offline click-to-call are very well designed and structured. Form adjusts to user needs (multi-step, expanding sections, etc).

Clarity

Good clarity means objectives of the page are very clear and page drives deliberate action to and through funnel. Conversion is simple and effortless.

Exit Links

An appropriate amount of exit links means 0-5 links on page or, if more, with visibility mitigated through design and UI, so as to not interfere with product research or conversion.

Features

A good score means page contains several useful interactive features that aid users in finding the right product and/or offer, and make the experience more purposeful.


Layout

Scannability

Good visual structure means the page is easily scannable for cues; typography and/or visual elements provide ample clarity on how to digest the content.

Use of Space

Good use of page real-estate means important content is given a maximized amount of space and the page mostly lacks gratuitous elements.

Placement

Good placement of content and functional elements means user paths are strong; page hierarchy is clear; all vital content is arranged at the top.

Separation of Content

A good score means enforced content integrity with strong visible demarcation; page grid is applied consistently; page elements contrast well..

Whitespace

Well balanced amounts of whitespace creates a clear visual structure with breathing room and purposeful visual emphasis that guides the eye.

Viewport Adaptation

Good utilization of the available viewport size means content and design applied with full responsive alignment; mobile and desktop dynamically served with same code.


Look-and-Feel

Brand Experience

Good brand experience means brand presence should be strong; adherence to brand identity should be consistent; brand recognition should be easy, and the brand experience should continue beyond the channel.

Aesthetics

Good aesthetics entail a modern/non-dated look-and-feel that is appropriate for the target audience; aesthetics should be consistent; visual impact should be distinctive and memorable and visual impression pleasing.

Typography

Good typography entails clear legibility and text hierarchies; purposeful text size; appropriate leading; sophisticated and consistent choice of fonts.

Imagery

Good imagery entails use of appropriate images of high quality; image compression should be effective and unnoticeable; appropriate size, cropping and composition, with purposeful treatments.

Use of Color

Good color usage means it supports the content and layout; colors match; the choice of colors elevates the experience; color facilitates scanning and reading.

Design Execution

Good quality of design execution means no visual flaws are apparent.

Four Flavors of Estimation

As UX practitioners, we all get roped into estimation meetings from time to time. But not all estimation efforts are the same. There are basically four different kinds of estimation, they all have different purposes, and they require different responses from us:

  1. True Estimation:
    • What’s the ask? “Here’s exactly what we’re doing; how long does this take?”
    • What’s most important? Giving an accurate account of the work involved.
    • What’s really being estimated? Effort and resources.
    • What you should ask: What’s the scope? What are the tasks? What’s the timeline?
    • Recommendation: Ensure that scope and tasks are clearly defined before estimation begins. If scope is only broadly defined, go to #2. Estimate task by task and resource by resource. Pad each estimate to allow for meetings, reviews and edits, or estimate those activities separately, or delimitate the estimate by excluding those activities entirely.
  2. Scoping + Estimation:
    • What’s the ask? “What can we do for this client, and how long does that take?”
    • What’s most important? Making appropriate recommendations, and making the business case for them.
    • What’s really being estimated? A list of recommended activities, and typical estimates per activity and resource.
    • What you should ask: What’s the goal of this project?
    • Recommendation: Ask to do scoping separately and get Account Management to commit to a fixed set of activities, and then add up the typical hours per activity. Give each activity an estimate in a range of hours, based on a high level complexity assessment. If scoping is not in the cards, go to #3.
  3. Guesstimation:
    • What’s the ask? “Here’s roughly what we think we should do; how long does this take?” (a k a “How long is a piece of string?”)
    • What’s most important? Cost.
    • What’s really being estimated? Resources required, number of hours that can be allocated per day per resource, and the approximate calendar time required to get it done.
    • What you should ask: How specific does the guesstimate need to be? (If very specific, go to #1 or #2).
    • Recommendation: Ensure that the person asking for the guesstimate is aware that it will be very rough. Scope the effort in broad categories, and do not define specific deliverables. Put your estimate in a range, never a fixed set of hours. The less defined the categories are, the greater the range. Do not accept being challenged on the guesstimate – if the requester wants you to be more precise, they need to provide more detail, either by going to #1 or #2.
  4. Adjustimation:
    • What’s the ask? “Here’s how long we have; what can you do in that timeframe?”
    • What’s most important? Speed to market.
    • What’s really being estimated? The priority of the project, how many resources can be freed up, and the time available.
    • What you should ask: How important is this? What is the client expecting? What’s the MVP?
    • Recommendation: Judge, based on prioritization, the percentage of hours available per resource within the allotted timeframe, and sum up how many hours can be spent on the specific project.Then ask each resource to define what they can accomplish in that amount of time. Be clear about the timeframe – if the due date is pushed out, the adjustimate has to be bumped up, since team members will continue working. Do not accept being challenged on the adjustimate – if the requester wants you to be more precise about what can be accomplished, they need to allow more time, either by going to #1 or #2.

Also, see: The Project Calculator™ (requires Flash)

Improving As A Designer

Designers mostly grow along a similar evolutionary curve:  starting out wanting to learn and get increasingly proficient with the tools at hand, building up their professionalism and gradually improving timeliness and efficiency, and then ultimately evolving into a role where they can apply their acquired skills in a bigger perspective.

The problem is, most of the early efficiency- and professionalism-related qualities are sort of at a price-of-admission level. If we’re playing Devil’s Advocate for a bit here, timeliness and efficiency are qualities that can be replicated just as well (and possibly more cost-effectively) through outsourcing, and so that is not enough for anyone as a professional to build on. What makes the most sense for an employer, in terms of maintaining creative capabilities in-house, is that designers add something beyond mere production capacity.

That something is knowledge.

As creatives, we need to become aggregators and keepers of knowledge and insights: insights that are accrued through experience specific to the company we work for, and their clients – insights that are to some degree proprietary, and could only be found there. That way, we present a value-add that justifies our involvement on a deeper level – a resource that is sought out and desired, and not just used for convenience.

Beyond timeliness and efficiency (which are mostly at a tactical level), having a better grasp of the chain of execution, and becoming better at tactical ideation, I would also recommend each individual designer to eventually move his/her development path to into areas of strategic relevance. Connecting creative solutions and ideas to business needs and insights about user behaviors, and expanding the production process to determine not just HOW things are done, but WHY they’re done that way, and how they SHOULD be done, given the business objectives of our clients, is what matters most.

Becoming an efficient and skilled designer is an objective that represents a good starting point. Already being efficient and pro-active in planning out work means an evolving designer would have room to expand his or her perspective and take on work with a broader, more strategic scope. As a designer starts to gain insights into how the output of the work is performing, it will become natural to start questioning and discussing those things at the outset of a project, rather than trying to figure out how to make things work when already knee-deep in it. And as one starts feeling more confident about being involved and active in a larger ideation context, the designer will be able to apply his or her ideas in ways that connect the dots, not just in terms of what works from a creative, communicative perspective, but what actually improves the bottom line results.

I strongly encourage each designer to embark on that journey – of asking why, not just asking how. I write this not necessarily for the purpose of designers climbing some kind of career ladder, but for the understanding of the “why” to inform the design, so that the work is and stays relevant, allowing each individual designer to become more than an efficient creative resource, but also a collaborator whose insights add value. Those are the types of team members who can never be replaced, and that is what a strong creative team needs.

That is the way I see the individual goals of a designer and the goals of a creative team coming together, and this is also how a team together can ensure that maintaining an in-house creative department makes sense for our employers in a business perspective. Because, ultimately, being efficient and timely, while admirable, is what’s expected of us, and that kind of capacity can unfortunately always be found at a lower price somewhere else. So, we need to add something more than that, something that the company cannot put a price on.

Figuring out what that “extra” thing is for each individual designer is what is going to be the most important going forward in their careers, beyond their current situation.