Categories
Design UX

The Law of the Instrument

Very early in my career, I made the mistake of applying for a job that put more emphasis on the tool used for the work than the person needed. “Mac Operator required” read the headline.

It wasn’t false advertising. I got the job, and true enough the work was operating a Mac in a sweatshop environment, producing terrible ad artwork and even more terrible brochure artwork. My design career barely survived.

Some years later, I became particularly adept at Adobe Flash (then Macromedia Flash) . The software allowed designers to indulge in creating websites and web applications that broke out of the constraints of a standard web browser.

The more I saw myself as an advanced user, the more each new feature became a chance to showboat my skills. The software’s capabilities began to lead my design work. I had a hammer, and all I could see were nails. Thankfully, by the time Steve Jobs kick-started Flash’s death spiral, I had moved on to embrace process and my toolkit was well beyond whatever Adobe were selling at that particular time.

The lesson I learned from these situations was not to allow your contributions as a designer to be defined by the tools you use.

This came to mind watching the Adobe/Figma story send shockwaves through the design industry last week. I remain unmoved.

If interaction design practice has deteriorated to the point where it relies so heavily on a single design tool, something is badly wrong.

I get just how good a tool Figma is. I get that a whole generation of designers in their early careers have known nothing other than Figma as the de facto tool of their trade. And it has earned that place. That should not make it a prerequisite for design.

Anyone unsettled about Figma’s future might use this as a reminder to stay sharp.

Don’t over-invest in a single design tool. Don’t conflate your value as a designer with technical ability in a software package.

Software will come and go. Your true value will endure.

Categories
Books Community UX

Back to the books

Always good to get a new UX Belfast lineup secured.

It’s getting close to 10 years since I took over the bookclub that Design By Front established as a regular fixture in the Belfast design calendar.

I remember well the great evenings with a small bunch of design friends, all needing out over the book selection that month. It was a smaller affair then.

Since that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to welcome many of my professional heroes to Belfast (virtually, of course). The pinnacle had to be hosting Susan Weinschenk last year, with over 100 attendees. It has never been about the numbers, always about the content.

I try to be timely with the theme of each meetup. It’s a particular thrill to have Christian along right when his book is being published – and much-needed it is, too.

Emma is such a great leader in the local tech community, I’m really delighted to finally have the topic for her to appear at UXB.

Hopefully the last online-only event. We’ll see.

Categories
Books Community Teaching UX

UX Belfast, October 2021

Organising meet-ups has become a tricky business of late. After being all online for over 18 months, some are starting to get back to ‘in real life’ (IRL) events.

Not so UX Belfast! Still online-only, and hybrid events still feel a couple of months away. The generosity and knowledge of guests continue to be a joy, however.

How to design for everyone‘ saw New York-based designer, educator, and author Reginé Gilbert join us to talk and take questions on her accessibility work. As ever, our book club past meant that a book set the evening’s theme This time round it was Regine’´s ‘Inclusive Design for a Digital World‘.

My former Fathom_ colleague, and friend Marie-therese McCann then gave us an outline of work to bring focus to accessibility as an element of her role at ESO.

Reginé nominated America On Tech as our charity for this meetup. A donation was made to thank Reginé and MT for their time.

I had hoped this might be the last remote-only meetup before looking to a hybrid model going forward. Time will tell. Planning for 2022 events begins now. I’ll stay flexible on format and see how things stand early in the New Year.

Categories
Design Product UX

Most of your users would rather be doing something else.

‘Tool soup’ is a term I first heard while designing for developer experience. 

It describes the extensive toolset that developers today rely on to get their work done.

The implication of the phrase is this: no matter how central you think your application is to a user’s life, they likely spend only minutes in it before dealing with something else. 

The phrase came to mind recently as I onboarded with a range of systems and applications required for a new role. 

As with any large organization, multiple systems and applications are essential to help manage a global workforce. Each has different password requirements, various ways of activating and registering, and a dizzying variety of interfaces.

But tool soup is not exclusive to developers or those in the tech industries. 

At work, we leverage multiple tools to communicate and collaborate, to document and produce. At home, we use apps and websites to shop, manage our money, perhaps engage with public services. We all deal our own variety of tool soup, whether as professionals, customers, or consumers.

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s ‘Jakob’s law’ from 2000 states: “Users spend most of their time on other sites.” 

By this, he means that users will prefer your website to work the same way as all the other sites they already know. So don’t reinvent familiar interactions when all people want is something recognisable to work with.

Here is a second law for our software-saturated and time-poor world: most of your users would rather be doing something else. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but very few.

People will love your product if it allows them to effortlessly achieve mundane tasks. If you are short on context for your product or service, work with these smart defaults: people are trying to get lots of things done in a finite amount of time. They are wading in tool soup.

Assume your users would rather be doing something else. They will thank you for it.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Categories
Design Process Product UX

From agency to enterprise

Four years ago to the day, after a significant portion of my career working in agencies and consultancies, I made a shift into enterprise products. To be specific, I now work in the complex world of infrastructure automation.

It was a jarring transition, not only from UX project work in an agency to product – but to an enterprise product. 

Like many designers, I used to sit on the sidelines of enterprise UX, muttering “why is design over there so bad?

There are many differences between enterprise UX and B2C, or even much of B2B. One of the key differences is the level of tolerable complexity. 

Enterprise products are more often used by teams, not a single individual. The dream of a single user who gets up and running quickly, who is delighted by the experience, and who converts to a product evangelist is a distant one.

Working in an agency, you are hired for expertise or for an outside perspective, possibly to overcome internal politics or inertia. You contribute, your client pays you, and you move on, possibly with some great material for a case study.

There are times when I doubt what I’ve actually achieved; forgetting, of course, that some of the achievement has been to deliver work that is not easily reflected in a portfolio piece. In those times, I find this thought from Jared Spool, one of the most respected voices in the UX community, so reassuring: 

“When I talk with UX design leaders …they’re shocked (and a little disappointed) when I tell them it’s likely they won’t see any real movement for months. It could even be years before they’re close to accomplishing their objectives.”

UX Strategy is a Long Game, But Worth Every Moment

Working in the enterprise means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable with your design output. Outright ‘wins’ of old are hard to discern, and only after some time.

But this discomfort need only last as long as it takes you to realise that what matters, more than ever, is the value you have helped to deliver.

Your work is unlikely to raise gasps of “cool!” from other designers. You realise you are now in much more of a team sport, and part of something bigger.

Enterprise is very different to agency, but it feels like growth and development. I won’t side with one or the other. I’m just grateful to have experienced and understand both worlds.