Slack Completely Changed The Way Our Team Communicates (For The Better!)

So my VP introduced us to this tool called Slack a few days ago. My first reaction? Greatttt. Another tool I need to keep checking for updates every 3 minutes. 2 days later, I’m absolutely in love with it.

It completely changed the way our team communicates in a matter of 2 days. We’re closer knit, communicating more clearly, and are more productive than ever before. It’s slightly magical. Why, you ask?

1. It’s elegantly designed. 

You can tell that the team that designed it really took their time focusing on the little big details. It’s simple to use and powerful at the same time.

2. Notifications are cleanly executed. 

There are badges in the Mac App, but they are subtle. Instead of things flashing in your face, there’s just a dot. Threads with new comments turn bold. They aren’t obnoxious stress inducing notification signals, they’re lovely.

3. The team conversations are fluid.

Tagging is an option, but it’s like a giant chat window for all members to see. Everything is archived, so there is no fear of missing out on an important interaction if you’re out sick or stuck in a meeting. That being said, rereading our team conversations is hilarious. We could probably create a season long sitcom script just by copy pasting our team chat transcripts.

4. Remote employees become fully immersed in team culture, without any effort. 

Our team has one employee who works remotely 4 days a week.

We’ve switched from Lync (which is absolutely horrible, it crashes every 5 minutes, deletes things, doesn’t send full messages without alerting you, there’s no a character limit warning, it saves conversations in a sketchy manner, I could go on and on) to Slack exclusively for internal team communication.

Keeping remote employees in the loop with lync is practically impossible. With Slack, it’s effortless.

5. We now have a permalink to conversing with our VP.

Our VP is incredibly busy, but always takes the time to chat with us and address our questions and concerns. Lync crashing was a stumbling block for clear lines of communication, emails were a stumbling block because he gets about 8734 of those per day, Slack is a direct line with clean communication flow. It’s not something that will disappear or crash and kill a conversation. It lets him reach out to us at any point of the day when he has the opportunity, and gives us the chance to respond as soon as we’re free from meetings/surface for air from our latest projects.

6. There are group conversations, and private conversations, and they all feel permanent. 

When using a normal chat client, or emailing a person, messages seem temporary, and folks tend to say things they wouldn’t say in person. They of course, AREN’T temporary, once you send a message on the net it lives forever, but still the transient feel remains. When you communicate on Slack, you can edit or delete, but it has a more permanent feel, because when you open the screen everything you’ve said previously is still in the window. I find myself thinking before I type, but not in a bad way, in a more organized thought process way. Try it for a few days to understand what I mean.

7. Tools are available, but tucked away in non obtrusive places.

You can hover over a message to display a gear icon that contains the options to delete or edit a message. They aren’t in your face, they’re tucked away, which contributes to the fluid, clean feeling of the interface.

8. The ability to split apart channel topics has been mega helpful in assisting us in communicating more clearly.

We have a general tab where we do things like select our team superhero names and avatars (Have I mentioned how much I love my job and my team? Seriously. Best work environment on the planet. Oh, and #TeamIronMan ftw!) We also use that area to toss out ideas and concepts and figure out how to allocate projects. We have an inspiration channel to post awesome new tech we stumble upon, we have a process channel to discuss ways we can improve our work flows, and we have a questions channel where we can post urgent questions that need to be addressed to avoid impediments.

9. You can add media to your conversations with ease. 

You can add links, you can add graphics & you can use threaded commenting to have conversations about the assets you add. It’s simple and lost in one place.

10. Slack replaced 3 other tools, by combining all of their functionality into one. 

We were using Lync for chat, we were using a hidden Facebook group for sharing inspiration, we were using Notable to toss out design feedback, and Slack combined all 3 necessities into one elegant space.

I’m officially a huge Slack fan. If you’re looking for a new tool to improve team communication, definitely check it out.

BTW, it’s absolutely free to use for all of eternity, with an unlimited number of users. (Pure Win!) https://slack.com/ 

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Quality Product Design: Don’t Give Me What I Want… Solve My Problem.

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After being in the industry for years, I’ve discovered 2 important things:

A. Product Designers and UX Pros think differently than other humans.
B. Really skilled Product Designers and UX Pros see problems that need to be solved, not features that need to be added.

When a client steps forward and asks for a feature request, rather than saying, “Sure! Let me just toss that in here!” an experienced product designer says, “That is great feedback! Can you explain how you would apply that feature, and how it would improve your experience?”

Sometimes you come across companies who have a strong focus on integrating client feedback, but their products eventually implode and become so feature laden that they sink.  There are ways to integrate feature requests and take a user centered approach without destroying your product.

1. Listen to feedback clients throw your way with an interpretive ear, and don’t be afraid to dig deeper to identify underlying problems.

Listen beyond the words your clients are saying and the features they’re requesting, and get to the root of the problems they are trying to solve.

2. Sometimes feature requests are actually usability issues in disguise. 

We’ve had several situations where a client requested a new feature, and after some digging and discussion we discovered that an area of our product would solve the problem with some minor tweaking. There was just a usability stumbling block getting in their way.

3. Sometimes the product features clients request are actually new product offerings in disguise. 

“I wish the product would do this. If you’d add these features, I could use this to do Y.” All client feedback doesn’t have to be fed into a primary product, when the problems that need to be solved could be handled with a separate product with a laser focus. Bloating your flagship product with a million features will lead to client frustration. Creating a new product that solves a client problem with ease = gold.

4. Focus your energy on hearing the users’ needs not the users’ wants. 

“I want to be able to do this task more quickly” could really mean, “The feature I need to access needs to be in a more prominent position on the screen.” Or, it could mean, “The feature I need to access should be a standalone solution because it it is part of my daily workflow and digging through a bloated product to find it is killing my experience.”

5. More features do not equal a better product. 

Products in their purest, simplest form, are a thing of beauty. Any designer in the world can create a product and snap a million features on top of it, and around it and under it. It takes a skilled product designer & UX pro team to pare down a product to its simplest form, until it’s a clean, elegant, easy to use solution.

So basically what I’m saying is, listen to your clients. Respond to your client needs. But don’t just give them what they ask for… solve their problems.

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Humanizing Your Brand: Step 1 – Give It A Face. (Literally)

So social media, when used properly, can give your brand a major boost in visibility. The key is to not sound like a robot retweeting machine. (And if your social media strategy is to USE a robot retweeting machine, then you’re doing it wrong.)

Step 1: Give your brand a face. 

I mean this literally, I’m not being esoteric. Slap a face on your stuff. It can be the face of your blogger, it can be the face of your social media manager, it can be a banner that contains photos of your team, just make sure you add some kind of graphic containing a human to your social media & web branding.

Excuse #1: That would be weird.

Well… you can NOT give your brand a face… and continue looking like an obscure, cold,  official organization.

Your human face can be low key, or it can be your team doing something ridiculous, or just a shot of your team smiling, or a super artsy picture of your whole crew looking like a 1920′s mobster group. (Our graphic designing creative team did that once. It was actually pretty epic.)

Just integrate a human somewhere. People will start connecting the photo of a happy person or people with your brand, and will subconsciously start feeling like your brand is friendly and safe.

Human brains are weird. We want things to make sense. Cognitive dissonance stresses us out. If we see happy smiling people on a website or social media account we mentally push for the brand to line up with the graphics. Boring cold graphics = zero emotional attachment. Happy warm fuzzy people = your brand is friendly and we think about interactions with you in a way that is consistent with the warm fuzziness.

Excuse #2: My organization is too professional to do that. 

Ok… so adding pictures of smiling employees or even stock photos of mildly happy strangers is too official for you? So basically you WANT to look stuffy and cold. That’s cool too, if you’re trying to reach an audience of stuffy cold people. Which.. some companies are. But seriously, even my BANK has pictures of happy smiling people on the log in page. Banks aren’t exactly places to throw parties. Loosen up and increase your marketing reach.

Excuse #3: But my logo is epic. 

It probably is. Lame logos don’t usually last very long. If you want to use your logo, you should definitely do it. Use it all over the place. Use it as your profile pic in your corporate social media branding if you want. Just make sure you humanize your page as well. Banners are a great place to make that happen if you can’t mix your logo into a humanized profile pic.

Step 2: Give your brand a clear voice. 

Voice is incredibly important when you’re dealing with branding. If you’re having trouble defining your voice, hire a content strategist. They’re pretty much voice defining rock stars.

Laid Back Voice

My blog has a laid back, tongue in cheek voice, because I’m the only writer (and can do whatever I want, including but not limited to drawing horrible stick figures), and therefore I write like I’m talking to folks in person.

I like to keep my posts short and sweet, because I have a short attention span. Get to the point, and do it fast, or I’m thinking about where I’m going to vacation next summer in the middle of your sentence. I try not to go off on 47 page rants because I would NEVER be able to get through one of those articles myself. I keep my voice light and personable, because I inject my own personality in my posts. This voice would not work for every audience, however.

Formal Voice

If your brand is more formal, you’re going to need to make sure your writers adopt a more formal voice. But make sure your formal force isn’t a horrifyingly boring voice. If it is, only a specific subset of the population is going to read your posts/tweets/website content. If people who enjoy boring content are your only target audience, do it up. If you’re trying to reach a broader audience, humanize your voice, but remain professional.

My company has a friendly, but professional voice. When I’m working on product copy, I definitely don’t use the same voice I use in my blog, because of our target audience.

Step 3: Respond to all of the social media interactions that customers throw your way.

The worst thing you can possibly do is have unmoderated Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest/Google+ accounts.

Handle Business

If you set those accounts up, you need to be all over them, responding to comments and tweets and posts and following people back constantly. Some brands hire a person or a team to handle their social media interactions. If you “don’t have enough bandwidth to do that” deactivate your social media accounts immediately. They’re going to harm your brand, not help it. Don’t delete them though, you may need them in the future and you don’t want to lose your brand handles & vanity URLs.

Voice = Key

Ensure that the person managing your social media is completely comfortable with your brand voice. If your voice is inconsistent in social media, you’re going to end up in cognitive dissonance land again, and you’ll stress out your audience.

Step 4: Tell your social media manager up front that if they EVER accidentally post a personal tweet through your branded account, that they’re fired. On the spot. Put that in their contract. 

There have been some absolutely horrifying accidental tweets and FB posts through branded accounts over the past few years that have caused enormous PR nightmares. This is the internet, you can’t delete something and make it magically disappear. Once it’s posted, it takes on a life of its own. Try as you might, you can’t make the general public un-see things.

To sum things up, humanizing your brand can make a huge difference in the way your audience views, interacts with, and feels about your brand. You can humanize your brand, and remain professional simultaneously; it’s not an either/or situation. And humanizing can have a very positive effect in increasing your brand reach. Give it a try! You won’t be sorry.

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How To Rock Your App Launch: 10 Quick Tips

Launching a new app can be a pretty daunting task.

A good friend of mine recently developed and launched an app because she had wished for years that it would exist. It’s an app that allows wrestlers, parents and coaches to track wrestling scores, matches and opponents with ease.

I learned some important lessons while watching her go through the app launching process that I’d like to share with you.

1. Make sure you’re passionate about the concept behind the app that you’re developing.

She needed this app to exist so that she could use it, and she thought other parents may want to use it too.

2. Launch your app at the right time.

The pre-season just started, and she put the app on the market at exactly the right moment. Before her app had even been out for 1 week, she already had tons of downloads. If she had launched it a few months before or a few months later, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful at launch.

3. If you’re going to launch the app yourself, make sure you do your pre-marketing months in advance.

Before her app was even finished, she was posting teaser links in wrestling forums, and reaching out to wrestling organizations to let them know it was on the way.

4. Check branding options before you become too attached to an app name.

She didn’t name her app until she made sure that the domain name, Facebook url and Twitter handle were available. If they hadn’t been, she was willing to change the name of the app.

Don’t marry yourself to an app name until you’ve secured the appropriate branding.

5. Perform Usability testing with all of the appropriate personas.

She tested her app with kids, teens and with adults to ensure that it would be usable by her entire target audience. She focused closely on UX from the very beginning which helped with her rapid adoption rate at launch.

6. Once you launch, sincerely ask your users for feedback.

After she posted links to the app in various forums, she asked sincerely for feedback and feature requests from her target audience. Her son has only been wrestling for a few years and is in elementary level tournaments, so she didn’t have experience yet with high school level wrestling. She wanted to make absolutely sure that she was meeting the needs of her entire user base.

7. Iterate like crazy.

She launched the app with the features she felt were necessary for success, but had a plan for various iterations of those features in advance. After launch, several of the feature requests that her users presented were so fantastic that she integrated them in with the first couple of planned feature iterations immediately.

8. Don’t trip yourself up by trying to integrate every single feature that is requested, but don’t get so focused on your planned iterations that you don’t listen the feedback you’re receiving from your target audience.

This is quite possibly one of the trickiest parts of app development. The knee jerk reaction in the beginning stages is to include every single feature request people send your way. Over time your app will become huge and cumbersome and so feature heavy that the UX will suffer.

At the same time, you can’t get so obsessed with your pre-planned release strategy and timeline that you don’t take time to integrate the best feature requests while you work on iterations of existing features.
Strike a balance between these two areas and you’ll wind up with a phenomenal app that really meets your users needs.

9. Pre-plan your monetization strategy.

Before she had even finished her app, she reached out to some experienced industry folks through Twitter and other social media outlets to determine the best way to monetize her app.

The option she landed on makes perfect sense for her audience. Don’t think that you need to milk people dry from the beginning to make money. I don’t ever download an app that I have to pay for, unless I have an opportunity to try a lite version first, and I often find myself upgrading to the paid version if I love the app.

10. Add analytics from the get go.

You know what’s awesome? Being able to watch the use of your app increase on a daily basis, and having the opportunity to watch which features are being used the most. Custom events in Google Analytics are a great way to keep an eye on what’s going on with your app in real time. You can also put together some pretty killer stat sheets based on the data you receive on a monthly basis. Having analytics access also helps you locate problem areas from a UX perspective with ease.

My friend added custom events before her app went live, and is having a blast looking at her stats each night. Data = fun. :)

I hope you found these tips helpful. Now get out there a launch some killer apps!

In case you want to check out her app, you can download it for Android or iPhone by visiting http://www.suplexapp.com, http://www.facebook.com/suplexapp or http://twitter.com/suplexapp (See? Solid branding FTW.) :)

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UX Thinking: It’s Contagious!

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This past weekend my daughter and I walked into a restaurant and they had a napkin dispenser on the counter.

When you tried to pull out a napkin, about 45 more came out with it.

After attempting to use it for a second time with the same irritating result, my daughter looked up and said very seriously, “You need to take a picture of this for your blog.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because the UX is horrible!” She replied. “It would be so easy to fix! They just need to make it work more like a tissue box!”

I’m deeming that a parenting win.

UX thinking is contagious, and family members are especially susceptible!

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Sexism in the Technology Industry: A Dying Phenomenon

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I’ve been chatting with tons of UX pros, designers and developers as of late, and I’ve discovered something pretty great:

Sexism in the technology industry is a dying phenomenon.

Very occasionally you encounter a pitiful male who feels the need to beat his chest like a caged monkey to mask his insecurities which makes him look incredibly pathetic, but it’s a rare occurrence.

Thankfully the caged monkeys are being shunned and ostracized into oblivion (as they should be) by the rest of the members of our fab community.

Of the last 100 or so community members I’ve interacted with, I’ve only encountered 1 ignorant, blatantly sexist jerk who should probably not be permitted to ever speak again.

He basically crucified himself on social media. The rest of the industry was appalled (rightly so) and lit into him immediately. We, as a community, don’t put up with that garbage.

Since I’ve only encountered 1 jerk in 100 professional interactions, I’m rocking 99% awesome peer experiences. Other UX/Design/Dev pros are expressing similar percentages, and I’m loving it. Our community really is the best!

When Will This Madness Stop? (Not a tech post.)

Every time there is a school shooting, this question seems to surface: “When will this madness stop?”

I’ll tell you when the madness will stop:

  • When the media stops idolizing school shooters.
  • When TV shows stop idolizing serial killers and murderers.
  • When video games are no longer focused on killing and blowing things up.
  • When rappers stop singing about killing each other.
  • When all children have perfect home lives and zero stress.
  • When poverty and hunger are abolished.
  • When mental illness disappears from the earth.
  • When wars and violent uprisings stop occurring.
  • When people feel safe enough to no longer need guns and other weapons to protect themselves.
  • When all humans are all tolerant of one another’s differences.
  • When we have achieved world peace.

When all of these things come together at once, the violence will end.

So, never. It will never end.

What can we do to help the situation while we wait for world peace and nirvana to strike?

  • We can love our kids, and the kids we meet who need help.
  • We can teach them to respect other humans. All other humans, not just humans who look and act like them, or whose household incomes fall into the same tax bracket.
  • We can teach our kids to stand up for what they know is right.
  • We can be kind to others & lead by example.
  • We can volunteer to help those in need.
  • We can reach out to people who are hurting and let them know that they are not alone.
  • We can refer people with mental health issues to the help that they need.
  • We can genuinely care for one another.

Love your kids, and teach them to value life. We can’t change the entire world at once, but we can change the world one child at a time.

That’s all I have to say. I will now return to my regularly scheduled UX blog posts.

When Your MacBook Won’t Boot First Thing In The Morning

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I just had one of those extreme panic moments. I grabbed my morning cup of coffee, hit the power button on my Mac… and it spun and spun and spun and spun… and didn’t boot. Thank goodness for Dropbox or I probably would have had a coronary on the spot. I legit felt like someone had sawed off my right arm.

I wound up having to steal my daughter’s Windows 8 machine for about an hour… and I after using it for about 10 minutes I wanted to die. I didn’t really realize how deeply immersed in Apple land I am, until I tried to actually get work done in a Windows 8 environment.

I am happy to report that after some doctoring my beloved MacBook Pro has returned to its fully functioning happy self, but holy adrenaline rush first thing in the morning.

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3 Stages of Grief: Lost Internet Connection Edition

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So this morning I slaved over a conference session proposal I’ve been working on for weeks, for several hours while my daughter was at orchestra rehearsal.

The proposal was finally ready for that magical moment: submission.

I navigated out to the conference website and filled out the 8643589 field form that goes with the proposal submission.

I clicked submit, and rather than the expected ray of light shining down from heaven, I got an “Internet Connection Lost” message. I hit the back button in a panic, but to no avail.

At first I was in a state of shock. Then it gave way to a wave of sadness. Next came the final phase, rage!

Take 2.

10 UX Tools I Couldn’t Live Without: Oct 2014 Version

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SolidifyApp – Mega simple prototyping/click tracking tool for desktop and mobile usability testing.

UXRecorder – Mobile usability testing app (Create a native prototype in SolidifyApp and run it through UXRecorder = Magical).

Silverback App – Mac usability testing.

Trello – Organize all the things.

Skitch – Fab for UX reviews.

Balsamiq – Best collaborative wire framing tool on the market.

TargetProcess – Track Design/Development/QA progress and burndown.

GoToMeeting – Design collaboration via video chat/recording sessions & screen sharing with Audio.

Google Analytics – Analyze how your clients are using your product, look for pain points, adjust UX accordingly.

InVisionApp – Hi res desktop and mobile prototyping.

Bonus Tool:

Spotify - Great music gets the creative juices flowing!

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