The Belfast UX bookclub meetups continue, and 30 May gathering had author Sara Wachter-Boettcher taking questions and providing insights on ’Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech’.
This marked the twentieth UX Belfast meetup I’ve organised and, significantly, the best attended. A partnership with Women in Tech Belfast for the evening contributed hugely to that milestone. That said, interest in the group is rising rapidly, with over 220 members on the Meetup.com page at time of writing.
Sara’s book made Fast Company’s Top 10 Business & Leadership books of 2017, and Wired’s Top Tech books of 2017. Although a relatively short read, Sara has managed to gather a shocking number of case studies and examples where technology might be successfully delivering ‘engagement’ with users but letting humans, even society, down in the process.
Further information on the book, as well as Sara’s work as an independent content and UX consultant, can be found at her website http://www.sarawb.com.
Huge thanks to partners for the evening, Women in Tech BFS. Thanks also to PuppetBelfast for providing the great venue and refreshments, Slice app for the copious amounts of pizza and to WW Norton UK for discounts and copies of the book to give away.
To thank Sara for her time, a donation has been made to local charity, WomensTec. For more information visit http://www.womenstec.org
This time round we had Donna Lichaw (@dlichaw) talking about her book The User’s Journey: Storymapping Products that People Love.
Donna has a background in screenwriting, and carried over the idea of mapping out story from the world of film as she transitioned into products. In the book we’re offered examples from film & TV (Back to the Future and Breaking Bad fwiw), then examples of how that transposes to design.
The storymap always follows this pattern (above), the challenge is then to populate the story with the most critical elements of the user experience. N.B. Although Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’ is referenced, that isn’t the central model or focus of the book.
Examples of effective application of the technique included Donna’s own experience with FitCounter, where rate of retention during onboarding doubled, despite extending signup from 5 to 15 steps! Another example given is the signup experience of Twitter during it’s major growth period.
During Q&A Donna suggested storymapping was another tool that could work alongside more traditional methods; in practice I anticipate it will take significant buy-in from an early stage, right across the team. Potentially it might impinge or negate completely many accepted UX practices. For instance, some terms that Donna makes use of might be a formula for ambiguity in the UX vs agile conundrum, not least the definition of “stories” itself.
That said, Donna didn’t get caught up in semantics; the book is simply advocating for increased shared understanding, using story – in a holistic sense – as the agent to establish clarity for project goals. It’s a relatively short read, and makes a compelling case for storymapping to bring something fresh to product discussions. It’s but a short step away from experience mapping and traditional user stories; a consolidation of disparate elements under the banner of story.
If you have time, this is an excellent video of Donna’s presentation at Mind The Product in London, 2016.
A quick history of UX Bookclub Belfast: started around 10 years ago and hosted by an agency named Front. They were acquired by Monotype in 2012 at which point myself and few others took up as organizers, until early 2016 when it ran out of suitable venues… and interest. FF to late 2017 and we held the first rebooted bookclub (now with added Meetup.com!)
My name is Patrick Stuart Monro, and I have a criminal past.
Some weeks ago this thought occurred to me:
If I’m ever harsh about designers overly concerned with visuals on the web, it’s because I’m talking about me 10-12 years ago.
— Rick Monro (@monro) April 3, 2014
It had begun to feel that so much of what I was saying, whether on Twitter or off it, sounded like that old stereotype of the ex-smoker whose every utterance forms an unrelenting diatribe against their former habit.
Moving deeper into the wold of user experience research and user-centred design has turned my professional sensibilities on their head; I’m a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. From an inauspicious start at a design sweatshop, successive developments brought me to increasingly align with principles that should have been ingrained from day one, but were not.
I envy those who realise early in their design careers – perhaps through effective education – that people should be at the centre of their work, those who will consume the outputs from it. My early career was a series of exercises in aesthetic futility, recurring attempts to prove something about myself that rarely manifested itself in user-centred design of any variety.
Graphic work particularly was more often than not an exercise in Photoshop promenading. Maybe I would shoe-horn in a new typeface that I liked the look of, usually in wilful ignorance of the ultimate audience or purpose.
That said, no-one suffered, no-one died. Every piece of work I produced was signed off by a client as fit for purpose (not necessarily an endorsement of it being effective of course), and the work I was doing was no better or worse than numerous design projects created every day around the world.
What my tweet made me aware of was that I wish at times I could address my younger self (doesn’t everyone?), and begin to plant the seeds of responsible design earlier.
An opportunity has become available to do something approaching this, as a contributing lecturer to the Interactive Multimedia Design course at the University of Ulster. I can at least begin to make amends for my own lack of understanding (something I can’t solely attribute to poor levels of design education) by passing on some of what I’ve learned in 20+ years as a designer, albeit far too few of those spent as an effective one.
I find it cathartic to admit that I really haven’t been the designer I should have been for most of my career. But – as with all personal transformation – admitting aproblem is the first step. Followed by taking each day as it comes, and working to improve, one day at a time.
And I use each day to distance myself as far as possible from that younger version of me; the one who didn’t appreciate the privilege of working as a designer, and the responsibility that it brings with it.
I remain an eternal student of design. There are those in the industry (the ‘design’ industry in its widest possible sense), both globally and locally, that I look to now to help me make up for lost time. And it’s time I acknowledged them.
And with that, the subject of a future post becomes clear.
I’ve been fortunate to work alongside many, many talented professionals in my career, including designers and non-designers alike. While I benefitted from the influence of each, I also know I could have learned so much more had I been more perceptive at the time. Shamefully, I’m not sure I have let all of them know how helpful their influence was.
While all of those people have helped me to understand new things, or old things in new ways, none of them qualify as a fully-fledged mentor. The lack of a singular mentor figure has increasingly niggled at me, causing me to ask whether I had suffered because of it, where others had the opportunity to learn the craft of design. I like to think however I have made up for this in other ways; I have put in countless hours, compensating for what I see as an incomplete oeuvre.
There are a number of individuals that I feel represent the best design thinkers of our time, and thankfully their thoughts and writings are available to read online and off, available to all.
Dave Gray’s book Gamestorming, I can say without any hint of hyperbole, changed my professional life. My entire approach to client meetings and project research altered as soon as I got to know this book. 2013’s ‘The Connected Company’ is a modern design classic. For what my opinion is worth, I believe we’ll be referring back to The Connected Company for years to come such is its insight into the changing world of business and the challenges that need to be addressed both now and in the coming decades.
Roger L Martin Roger Martin’s books ‘Designing Business’ and ‘Playing to Win – How Strategy Really Works’ are must-reads for any design strategist. Martin is a tremendously articulate, motivating and understated speaker. I highly commend his speaking to you.
Jim Kalbach I was fortunate to see Jim speak at UX Brighton 2012, subsequently following him on social media and refer to his blog regularly. His thoughts on design’s place in the development and adoption of new products have brought to me head-slapping moments of clarity.
Unsurprisingly, a degree of synergy has emerged between the thinking of the three individuals mentioned above, and their work complements each other perfectly.
Long before UX became the standard buzzword it is now, DesignByFront were banging the drum for user-centred design, very much a lone voice in the wilderness in Belfast and perhaps the whole of Ireland. The considered approach they brought to client work was eventually focused into product development – and Typecast was born. Front also was something of an incubator for great design talent, with many individuals now dispersed throughout the design community in Northern Ireland who either started their careers, or passed through Front early in the careers. Paul and Jamie were pioneers.
Locally, there are many individuals I look up to who continue to inspire day to day. I see Chris Murphy, Paul McCormack and Tim Potter at the University of Ulster, building the next generation of designers through truly effective education.
I watch Richard Weston, so much more of a design craftsman than I ever was or could be, and read his blog on design finds and observations with glee.
I look to Darragh Neely, building a design agency now in its nineteenth year of operation.
Rory and Anita at the Creativity Hub, designing, innovating and marketing globally in breathtaking manner.
And there are many, many more I could and should mention, particularly a plethora of designers in the very early stages of their careers who make me shudder at just how together they are already, and the great things they will undoubtedly go on to achieve.
I think of all this, and find myself simply thankful to be working at a time when all of these people can be an influence on me, and I can channel that back into my own work.