Open Office Floor Plans: Fueling Animosity

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I was chatting with a buddy of mine from a mid size software company recently, and he mentioned that they had converted to an open floor plan model a few years ago. Open floor plans are so hot right now that I was really interested in hearing his experience.

Initially The Open Floor Plan Was Awesome

He said that when they initially launched the open floor plan model, it was awesome. They had a giant open space with designers on one side of the room and developers on the other side of the room with ample space between. The designers would get rowdy from time to time, laughing and joking around, but it didn’t phase the developers because they had their quiet peaceful side of the room to work in. All was well in the world. Both teams were more productive than ever.

They had great interdepartmental relationships, folks in both departments worked really well together, and even had great personal relationships. They had lots of happy smiley coworkers all over the place, who enjoyed coming in to the office.

After Time Passed And They Experienced Rapid Growth, The Open Floor Plan Started To Suck

Then the company grew. And grew some more. and grew even more.

All of a sudden, team members were packed in to the room like sardines. The developers were starting to resent the designers for being rowdy while they were trying to code, because the peace keeping buffer zone was gone. The designers were starting to resent the developers because they were complaining about “all of the noise” being made by the design team while they were collaborating, and feeding off of one another’s creative energy by sharing stories about side projects.

Random Side Convos Fuel Design Team Innovation and Creativity 

You’d be surprised how much creativity comes out of regular old conversations and laughter. Some of our design team’s best ideas have come out of random conversation.

“I spent the weekend at my kid’s basketball tournament, he is basically a free throw rockstar. Oh, by the way, did you see this new basketball stat tracking app? The gestures are freaking awesome, let me show you.”

If the random convo about the basketball tourney hadn’t taken place, the discovery of the gestures wouldn’t have happened, and the innovative integration of those gestures in the team’s latest app project wouldn’t have happened either.

Folks can’t be creative and innovative when they are all covered in cones of silence. Design teams require a very different work place culture than developers, one that’s open to constant open collaboration and creativity.

I’m not saying you need a water slide in the middle of the office and daily breaks to hold hands and sing campfire songs, I’m just saying that design teams need an environment in which they can create and innovate and collaborate freely.

Random Side Convos Make Developers Want To Brutally Destroy People

Now the flip side. Developers who are working on on projects in new languages (or intricate projects in languages they can code in their sleep) basically want to murder loud people.

You miss a semi colon because someone distracts you with their obnoxiously loud laughter, and your whole string of code fails. Then you spend an hour trying to figure out why on earth your hours of work crashed and burned.

When you finally do, you’re filled with rage and want to duct tape all of the designers mouths shut, and throw them in a pit of silence for all of eternity.

Rapidly Escalating Resentment = Not Cool

So back to my buddy’s story. Things got worse and worse. The previously happy go lucky, collaborative teams who had great interdepartmental relationships and great personal relationships disintegrated within a matter of months.

Developers were complaining about volume, designers felt like the devs were jealous of their awesome team culture, devs thought the designers were being disrespectful by not following their need for silence, designers thought the devs were being uptight and disrespectful by complaining about their personalities.

The crazy part that was NOTHING HAD CHANGED, other than that the two teams with drastically different team cultures had been smashed into a room that no longer gave them space to work the way they needed to work to be the most productive.

Failed Attempts To Fix Things

The initial solution his company came up with was to tell the dev team to wear noise canceling headphones. The developers expressed feeling that the company didn’t care about them as much as they cared about the designers. They also felt the designers were being disrespectful jerks, and that they should just shut up and act like normal corporate employees and that then everything would be fine. They thought it was stupid that they were being forced to compensate for their coworkers obnoxiousness.

When that didn’t work the company told the design team they could no longer discuss things out loud, it all needed to be done through chat so as not to disturb the dev team. At that point design team expressed feeling like they’d been slapped in the face and then suffocated. They expressed feeling that all of the creative energy had been abruptly sucked out of their workplace. They also felt they were being told that they were unprofessional for working the way they’d been working for years and that their awesome workplace culture had been stripped away.

Angry Resentment Abounds

So in a nutshell, at that point every single member of both teams were angry and frustrated and hated everything. My buddy said that suddenly meetings turned into arena’s for battle. Every team member on both sides went in ready to wage war. Where there used to be easy collaboration folks started digging their heels in and not willingly compromising on anything at all.

The workplace culture completely tanked, and really talented members of both the design team and the dev team started applying for other jobs. And the craziest part was, folks went from genuinely enjoying one another on a personal basis, to glaring at one another across the room and ignoring one another in the break room. Nothing personal had occurred, all of the animosity was stemming from the two teams just having vastly different workspace needs.

So how do you keep this from happening at your company?

The key is to give teams that require different workplace cultures appropriate workspaces to do their thing.

Split Open Office Floor Plans – Provide a Focus Workspace & a Collaborate Workspace

I’m going to label this concept the split open office floor plan. You provide a “Focus” workspace for folks who need silence to accomplish what they need to do. You provide a “Collaborate” workspace for folks who need to chat and laugh and get a little rowdy while they work to achieve maximum levels of productivity and creativity. Give team members the option to bounce between workplaces as needed. Maybe a designer needs a day to focus on a specific solution, and they’re feeling easily distracted instead of fueled by interaction, let them go chill in the focus room. Maybe a dev is ready to tear out hair because of all of the silence, let them go work in the collaborate room.

Everything Is Awesome… Seriously, It Worked Wonders In Our Company

You’ll wind up with better products, higher levels of employee workplace culture satisfaction and killer interdepartmental collaboration. I know this for a fact because our company used the split open floor plan model for years, and it worked beautifully. The design team had space to be rowdy, the dev team had space to be silent, and both teams were genuinely happy and productive.

If your company is experiencing rapid growth, keep an eye on your seating arrangements. They can truly make the difference between people loving their jobs and looking forward to going in to work in the morning, and despising their jobs and wanting to strangle folks all day long.

What Happened With My Buddy’s Company? 

I shared our killer split open office layout arrangement with him, and he said he was going to take it back to his senior staff immediately. He didn’t want to lose any more talent to something as silly as a poor seating arrangements. He mentioned that it was going to cost the company a ridiculous amount of money to hire and train replacements for the employees they had lost. It was definitely going to cost far more than rearranging seating in the office would have cost them.

Fix It. 

So did your company convert to an open floor plan when it became hot? At the end of the day your goal should be giving your teams the optimal work environments that they require to achieve the highest level of productivity and success. There’s no reason to let something as small as seating arrangements tank your company’s productivity, workplace culture and employee satisfaction. Fix it and get on with making awesome products.

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

Slack

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 and 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 it. 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 and 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 and we were using Notable to toss out design feedback. 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.

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!

UX, Collaborative Design and Prototyping Gold: InVision (For Mobile and Desktop!)

You know what I love? And I mean, love, love in a big way? UX and design tools that make life easier for me and the rest of my amazing team.

If you work on a design team, whether big or small, you really really need to check out InVision. It has changed our entire design process in an extremely positive, time saving, better organized kind of way, and it saves us from using several different tools to do a job, which in turn saves us from having to replicate work and waste time!  Add to that the intuitive, extremely user friendly UI and you have a definite win. So what makes InVision so magical you ask?

It takes the agony out of design collaboration.

I work on a team with an incredible group of folks. Other than myself, our team is made up of 2  incredibly talented UX Engineers, a fabulous UX designer, a UX manager who is an interaction design rock star in addition to being a code ninja, and a VP who is incredibly innovative.

When you have a new design concept, what’s your process?

Maybe you discuss, wireframe, review, make high res mockups, review the hi res, email suggested changes to the mockup maker, when that person makes and uploads or emails the changes they let you know and you re-review them, the process repeats, then they go on to the next level up for review, the same process happens, feedback is sent, mockups are edited and re-uploaded or emailed.

You finally end up with solid hi res mockups, then you have to get out your prototyping tool, upload your high res graphics to it, hot spot them (or code click paths if you’re hardcore), then show them to your stakeholders/user testing community, get feedback from those folks via survey or email or phone call, have the graphic designer edit the hi res mockups again, then make another prototype with the new mockups, send them to your stakeholders for approval, then eventually send your mockups off to your dev team to be coded once everything is finalized.

You know what the flaw is with that process? It’s 982374 layers deep and you have to do the same thing over and over again (which is a sign of insanity by the way).

You have to edit graphics and upload them or email them over and over and over again, then herd feedback from all over creation into a pile and attempt to keep it all lost in one place, and you have to edit mockups and create new prototypes for demoing and testing post feedback rounds over and over.

InVision on the other hand, does ALL of the things! Hence my deep deep love for the tool.

1. Create  your hi res screen mockup, save it to your InVision sync folder and from that point forward any edits you make to a mockup are instantly applied to your shared prototypes!!!

Use InVision’s FREE Mac App to save your hi res mockups to a sync folder, and every time you edit and save changes to a screen graphic, they are magically applied in real time to your prototype! It’s like the Google Docs of UX and graphic design! It’s kind of amazing!

Let me say that again. This happens in REAL TIME. You don’t have to upload or share or prototype over and over again. You edit your mockup screen, click save, and BAM. Your prototype is updated, good to go and ready for instantaneous review.

2. Reviewers can notate requested changes on the screens!

Instead of showing your reviewer a screen and asking them to email you feedback, or giving them a survey trying to gather feedback, or IMing feedback or saying it out loud, folks you share the design with can just leave comments on each mockup screen. This goes for managers, VP’s and any other stakeholder you give access!

You can also put snazzy status updates on the screens, so folks you’re collaborating with can see if something is in progress, approved or if  it is ready for review!

3. The UI is fab!

The UI is super intuitive and simple to use!

4. You can make mobile prototypes, desktop prototypes, tablet prototypes, you name it! 

You’re making chrome free touch UI prototypes here! And they let you integrate the latest in fun, modern gestures!

From a mobile standpoint, when you send a finalized prototype link and a person clicks it, they are prompted to download the prototype and add a shortcut to their phone home screen, which even lets them see the custom app icon you’ve spent time perfecting! It gives that warm fuzzy native app feeling when folks are checking it out!

So how many layers of design process steps did we just kill by using InVision? About 92.

Do you and your design & UX teams a favor, and check out InVision! (Pro Tip: You can test it out for free!)

(Our awesome VP Jason @jcoudriet and our fabulous UX Designer Danelle @danellesheree were the discoverers of this magic! And big thanks Danelle for reviewing this article and sharing even more benefits that I didn’t realize existed prior to writing this article!) 🙂

UX and Design Tools That Will Improve Your Productivity

This is a list of some of my favorite UX, design and accessibility testing tools at the moment! I hope you find them useful!

Tools for Collaboration

Tools for Usability Testing

Usability Testing Services That Provide Testers

Tools for Mobile Usability Testing & Prototyping

Tools for Usability Tester Recruiting

Mac Tools for Demoing Apps

Tools for Stat Tracking

Tools for Accessibility Testing

Miscellaneous Tools I Love

If any of your favorite tools aren’t listed, please feel free to leave them in the comments! I love testing out new tools! 🙂

Open Your Mind & Build Better Products: Persona Centered Design Brainstorming

The company I work for is incredible. I have an amazingly talented manager and an incredibly innovative, creative Vice President. Both are huge advocates for UX, usability testing and cutting edge user research methods. Another area in which they are very supportive, is the area of persona research. We have spent a good amount of time on our persona research, and it’s proven to be worth its weight in gold. We have been able to leverage the persona research in some really cool ways. I wanted to share with you a persona centered brainstorming method that has been particularly effective.

Our company’s flagship product is a CMS that allows school districts to maintain web properties with ease. Recently we created an end user layer called MyView, which functions as a dashboard for parents, students, staff members and community members. It’s an extremely powerful feature, and that is in large part due to our initial persona centered design brainstorming session. I’m going to outline the process we followed in hopes that it can aid some other organizations in the future.

Step 1: Get out of the office.
We met offsite. This may not sound like a big deal, but it’s huge. In office meetings are great, but when you want to get the creative juices flowing being in a remote area with no “pop in” distractions can really aid in focusing on the task at hand.

Step 2: Respect one another.
We have a team dynamic in which every team member is free to share ideas without fear of judgment. Every member of our team has respect for one another and feels comfortable sharing ideas.

Step 3: Integrate user personas in your design brainstorming.
We did a really cool exercise in which each member of our team adopted a key user persona, complete with name tag. Each of us then looked at the design from our adopted persona’s point of view. You wouldn’t believe how different your mental design process ends up when you’re looking at a concept from a specific persona point of view, rather than your own.

Step 4: Draw Pictures.
I have less than zero talent when it comes to drawing. Seriously, even my stick figures are pitiful. Asking every member of the team (Architects, Content Strategists, UX Designers, Vice Presidents I’m talking EVERY member) to draw what they envision the product to look like, and asking them to integrate the features they feel would be most important to their adopted user persona, is a really cool way to come up with innovative user centered ideas. Break out grid paper and sharpies for those who, like me, can’t even draw a straight line, and have at it.

Step 5. Create your V1 mockups on the spot.
How many times have you had a fantastic productive brainstorming meeting, gone home, come back the next day and you can’t figure out what in the world your notes mean? Create your V1 mockups before you leave while the ideas are still fresh in your mind.

We wound up with a completely killer design, and later an equally killer product enhancement using this method. I hope your company can benefit from it as well! May your products live long and prosper… with a little help from persona centered design brainstorming sessions. 🙂

5 Tools That Make Interdepartmental Collaboration a Breeze

One of the things I’ve noticed while talking with other UX pros is that keeping lines of communication and collaboration open between departments can be very challenging. If an organization isn’t adequately prepared, it can be even trickier when you add remote employees to the mix. I have put together this list of tools that keep our organization Schoolwires running smoothly when folks are in the office, as well as when people are remote.

  1. TargetProcess – Keep track of who is doing what and when. As far as interdepartmental use goes, our Product Management team comes up with features and requirements and puts them in the backlog. Our Design, Dev and QA teams go through the backlog and figure out how much time is going to be needed to accomplish the requirements and who needs to be allocated to each piece of the project. Once those pieces are determined the epic or story goes live and tasks are added for each team member that needs to contribute from the UX, Content Strategy, Design, Development and QA teams. Time tracking can be included in tasks as well. When a team member completes a task, they close it. This product is fantastic, because instead of people calling to ask when something is going to be finished or what is being included in a release, they can just look in TP and see a live update at any time.
  2. Balsamiq – It’s a wireframing tool with an awesomely simple yet powerful UI. It has a desktop interface as well as a web interface so you can design from anywhere. As far as collaboration goes, we have a design kickoff meeting where we come up with concepts and throw out ideas based on a market problem. After the meeting our Design and Innovation Team (VP, UX Manager, UX Designer, Content Strategist & 2 Architects) work together in Balsamiq to create mockups. Balsamiq shows live updates, so we can all be in the same wireframe working on different mockups and we see alerts about what the rest of the team is doing. It also has commenting enabled, with optional email alerts so we can discuss design changes right in the wireframe. After we finish the initial design mockups, our architects add all of the necessary charts, business layer and data layer info. Then our Content Strategist goes through and does a final sweep of all of the screen copy, labels, tooltips and any additional in product UA to ensure a consistently warm & friendly, yet professional product tone. Finally our UX Designer adds a final high res mockup to the project, and it’s ready to be passed on to Engineering. I LOVE this product. It is absolutely amazing for collaboration.
  3. GotoMeeting – It’s ridiculously easy to set up web conferences with GotoMeeting. We use this all the time for collaboration among teams. You can do a straight web conference or you can take advantage of their integrated HD video conferencing. Another great feature is being able to record your entire session. So, if you have a meeting and a major stakeholder can’t attend, just record it and they can play it back when they are able.
  4. Shared Calendars – We use Outlook, but there are tons of calendar sharing programs out there. Being able to schedule a meeting while looking at the availability of everyone who needs to attend is worth it’s weight in gold and it cuts out tons of unnecessary confusion and frustration. We use it to simultaneously book meeting rooms, which is also extremely handy.
  5. HipChat – A ton of our internal communication happens through chat. It’s perfect when you have remote staff members, but even people who are sitting right across from one another use chat to communicate in our office because it’s extremely difficult to code/design when people are talking loudly all around you. We still chat and joke around and collaborate out loud on a regular basis, but when it’s something small, being able to fire off a question via chat without disturbing the person next to you who is neck deep in code comes in super handy. We currently use HipChat, which is a completely awesome collaborative tool. You can create chat screens organized by topic, and assign members to the various topics. We have our HipChat broken out into project specific chat screens, one for research, one for sharing cool innovative finds, we even have one for future office decor ideas. It is incredibly helpful to have a one stop shop for team discussion when you have remote employees, they never miss a single detail. As an added bonus, HipChat has cross device compatibility, so you can use it on your PC, Mac, iPhone, Android Device or you can just fire up the web view. I’m a huge fan of this product, it has really opened our lines of communication!

These tools in combination with a completely awesome staff, keep our company running smoothly whether employees are all in one room or spread out all over the country.