There are classic design principles that never go out of style. They’re the things you learn about in design school, or for the self taught crew, you read about them in design text books, and they give you a foundation to grow on.
Once you have that foundation in place, design gives you the opportunity to create anything. ANYTHING. The only limitation is your imagination. You can make things that previously lived only in your mind, exist in the real world. And it’s thrilling.
Some people are incredibly concerned about staying in the confines of current trends. They’re worried that if they don’t stay on trend, their work will be seen as irrelevant.
Here’s the thing: Do you know how current trends come to be? People try new things. They don’t color within the lines, they think outside the box and they GO FOR IT.
If people didn’t experiment, and go beyond the boundaries of what is in style, if they didn’t take those risks, there wouldn’t BE trends. Design would go from an exciting creative outlet to a run of the mill, boring machine that kicks out mediocrity.
My daughter and I were watching the news recently, and a segment came on about a hero who reached out and saved another man with headphones on from being hit by a car.
My daughter looked up and said, “But he’s not really a hero right? Because he only did one hero-ish thing.”
I thought about it for a sec and responded, “Actually, it only takes doing one heroic deed to become known as a hero.”
Then it dawned on me that the design world follows the same principle. Almost all of the most famous, iconic designers are known for creating one signature thing. It could be a concept, or a style, or a method, or a physical creation, but there is always that one single spark that ignites the bonfire that launches their career.
Once they become famous for their one brilliant contribution, many of the following things they accomplish in their careers are highlighted and given more weight than they would have been given pre-fame. (Some deservedly so.)
Even the previously unknown, brushed aside things they did before they became famous become part of their legacy, and those things are studied and dissected, and heralded as the beginnings of genius. And not all of the things they did before becoming famous are even remotely good. And that’s ok because a huge part of design is experimenting and creating new, different, terrible and fantastic things.
Let go of your death grip on current trends and what’s hot right now, and experiment and explore. If your clients don’t understand your vision, and they only want what’s on trend, give it to them (you do have to keep the lights on after all), but never stop experimenting and dreaming and being a maker of non-existent things.
Someone out there has to start the next hot new design trend, why not you?
Legacy systems can be great. They may be the meat and potatoes of your business. They may pay your bills. They need to be up to date and work like champs.
But in order to let your company enter the wonderful world of creative, innovative design, you have to be willing to jump. And when I say jump, I mean jump away from your legacy product into the unknown. You may jump and land in a pile of cash. You may jump and land in a black hole of product death. (I recommend avoiding that one.)
Regardless of the end result, you need to have that urge to try, and test, and fail, and succeed in order to innovate and create amazing things.
I’m not suggesting that you gut your entire product and rip the rug out from under your customers. Replacing core functionality requires significant research, and major usability testing throughout every stage of the design and Dev process to ensure that the changes you make will improve your users experiences.
That said, you can’t keep such a death grip on every single legacy feature that you become frozen in time. Your product will become irrelevant.
If you keep yourself permanently tethered to every feature in your legacy ball and chain, when you jump, you’re going to swing over the edge and crash into the wall with no chance of reaching the next level of success.
Treat your legacy products with the respect they deserve, but don’t forget to occasionally jump. Because if you don’t jump, your competition will… and they’ll leapfrog right over you on their way down to that pile of cash that could have been yours.
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This post was originally published on UserExperienceRocks.com
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*Thank you for your comments that lead to clarification of key points in this post.
I received a mailer stating that my United MileagePlus points were going to expire at the end of the month.
There were a variety of gifts to choose from, but I decided to go for magazine subscriptions. I still enjoy flipping through physical pages now and then.
I was going through the list, checking off the magazines I was interested in, when I got to WIRED.
I love WIRED so I went to select it and noticed that it was only available in combination with another magazine, Details.
I had never heard of Details, I assumed it was some other form of tech mag.
When I clicked into the description I discovered that it was not, in fact, tech related. It was a freaking men’s fashion magazine.
I navigated back to the selection window, assuming that WIRED had to be offered standalone somewhere, but it was not. To subscribe to WIRED, I also had to subscribe to the men’s equivalent to Cosmo.
I’m not a person who goes off on gender related rampages very often. In fact, in all of my years in the tech industry, I have NEVER encountered a negatively charged gender related situation in the work place. I haven’t been “treated as an equal,” I’ve BEEN an equal. End of story.
This situation just really made me angry.
Apparently this vendor feels that in order to be interested in, and I quote, “the first word on how ideas and innovation are changing the world” you must also be a “young man interested in the news on fashion, women and culture.” There is no other way to purchase it. You have to subscribe to both, or go without.
The longer you spend in the design world, the more you realize that building on command never, ever ends well.People usually ask for things they want, not necessarily for what they need.
Case in point, a buddy of mine works for a major design firm. They have a program in which senior designers mentor newbie junior designers when they first come in the door. At the start of his career, about 10 years ago, my friend was that newbie designer.
His first week, his mentor had a meeting with a sizable client, and invited him to come in and shake some hands, and observe the kick off session.
As soon as they all sat down, the clients immediately whipped out a comp that outlined exactly what they wanted, down to the colors and fonts. They basically predesigned the entire project.
My friend’s mentor looked over the comp, looked up and simply asked, “What are your goals?”
The clients looked a little confused and taken aback. They responded with something along the lines of, “Um… we haven’t really given that much thought.”
My friend the newbie admitted that the sudden left hand turn in the conversation made him squirm a bit. He said the clients were visibly very uncomfortable, and he was sure that they were going to storm out of the room.
His mentor smoothly responded with, “Ok, lets talk about it.”
After an hour long discussion, his mentor had a full list of goals to take back to the rest of the design team, as well as the client’s blessing on taking a week to brainstorm the best possible solutions to meet those goals.
When my friend the newbie designer caught up with his mentor in the hall after the meeting, he told him he couldn’t believe that he “stood up to them” like that.
The mentor just grinned and said, “I wasn’t standing up to them, I was making sure that I clearly understood the problems that they need to solve.Good designers take orders and hand over exactly what a client wants. Great designers dive deep to uncover what a client actually needs.”
My friend said that those 3 sentences completely changed the trajectory of his entire career. He knew at that moment that he wanted to become a great designer. And as it turns out, he did.
My niece came to visit this weekend. She’s a beautiful, kind hearted person who loves to travel. She had been road tripping her way all over the east coast to visit friends and family, and had made her way to Pennsylvania to visit us. It was great seeing her.
Her next stop after us was heading to Philadelphia to visit an old college friend.
She bought a MegaBus ticket to make the trip from our home to Philli. I was pretty apprehensive, because she got on the bus at 8pm, and it’s a 5 hour bus ride so she wouldn’t arrive until 1am. She told me not to worry, her old roommate would be there waiting for her at the station.
Long story short, she called me at 1:30am and calmly told me in a whisper that her friend hadn’t shown up (we later learned that his car had broken down in a cell service dead zone) and that she didn’t know anyone else in Philadelphia.
Her phone was nearly dead, so she couldn’t even risk Googling taxi’s because it may not have enough juice to call them afterward. I could tell she was choking back tears, which was terrifying because she’s a really tough kid.
After about 45 seconds of sheer panic, I remembered my coworker mentioning how much she loved using Uber the last time she was in NYC. I had never used Uber in my life, but I realized that Philli had to have a solid Uber representation since the city is huge.
That was the point that my niece mentioned that there were 2 men sitting in their car in the otherwise empty parking area across the street watching her. She was in a wide open space, there wasn’t anywhere to go. Given that hers was the last bus of the night, the situation was looking bad. I told my niece to stay on the line as long as she could before her phone died.
I fired up the Uber app, and shakily entered her location and her desired end point, while I continued talking to her. 20 seconds later a nearly 5 star rated driver popped up as available, the trip was accepted and the Uber driver was on his way. There was an estimated arrival time of 3 minutes.
I kept my niece talking and about a minute and 30 seconds into our conversation the pitch in her voice raised a bit as she told me that the 2 men were getting out of their vehicle and had begun slowly walking toward her. I told her to run, and just as she turned to take off, Alfred the Uber driver whipped up to the curb between her and the men.
She jumped in the car and they took off. He had arrived exactly 2 minutes and 30 seconds after I’d made the request. 2 MINUTES AND 30 SECONDS!! Just as she told me she was safely in the car and they were driving away her phone died.
I was able to track her entire route through the city, to her friend’s apartment in the suburbs (which was dangerously, but thankfully unlocked).
She called me from his house phone the second she got in the door. At that point, not going to lie, I burst into tears, and so did she.
Uber saved my nieces life tonight. I have never been more thankful for great mobile app UX in my entire life. Had their UI been more clumsy or their onboarding less intuitive, the situation may have ended differently since mere seconds counted. GreatUXcansavelives.
Thank you Uber for making your service exist and your app fabulous. And thank you Alfred the hero driver for being prompt, trustworthy and reliable.
I’ll be grateful to Uber and Alfred for the rest of my life.
I was at a conference recently, and overheard a conversation that completely set me off.
An attendee was chatting with a speaker who had given a killer preso about UX strategy laced with both interaction design and user research tips. His presentation was informative and well thought out, and attendees left raving about the session.
Several people walked up to the front of the room to congratulate him afterward, myself included.
I overhead the attendee standing in front of me say, “This was great, but the session title was misleading, since you’re not a REAL designer.”
“You’re not a REAL designer.”
The speaker looked a little stunned.
I was dumbfounded. Then I was angry, so I calmly approached, and said, “I’m sorry, what exactly is a “REAL” designer in your opinion?”
I tried very hard to keep the anger and sarcasm out of my voice, but was apparently only partially successful, because the guy went from confident to startled and uncomfortable and said eloquently, “Well you know, he doesn’t like, make graphics and stuff like the designers on my team do.”
I diffused a bit there, and realized that the guy wasn’t a designer, and he just didn’t have a clue.
I felt like a jerk for getting up in arms when they guy was just legitimately ignorant, and said, “Gotcha. Yeah, there are tons of different specialties in the overarching design profession. Graphic design is one of them, but there are many, many more.”
Then we sat down and chatted at length during the break about the vast variety of design professions, because he was legitimately curious and wanted to learn more.
Sometimes I forget that people (even people in the tech industry) don’t have a firm understanding of how many different professions make up the design industry.
“Even people in the tech industry don’t understand how many different professions make up the design industry.”
Graphic design is not better than interaction design is not better than user research is not better than front end dev is not better than information architecture is not better than content strategy, etc.. The design profession is made up of all types of people with all types of backgrounds who come together to design amazing products. There is no “more important” or “less important” there is just a “design team”.
There is no “more important” or “less important” there is just a “design team”.
The lesson I took from my interaction with this dude at the conference (who turned out to be a systems admin btw) was that anger isn’t the appropriate response to ignorance — education is.
“Anger isn’t the appropriate response to ignorance—education is.”
(Unless the ignorance is heavily laced with elitist jerk mojo, in which case, pity is the appropriate response). 😉
Then, when asked to rate the task, the tester smiles politely and says it was “easy”.
It’s obviously not true, but if you don’t record audio and video, and only go on tester rating, you’ll never know to fix the issue.
Audio and video allow you to look past verbal responses into what is really going on with your testers. You can look for facial expressions relating to frustration and anger, listen for under the breath profanity, and just generally get a more holistic view of how your testers really feel.
Not recording tester audio and video does you a huge disservice.
Give it a shot. It’ll help you uncover the testers who are lying, consciously or subconsciously, and will give you better data.
I recently discovered that users of Google Analytics Free don’t always fully understand what they’re seeing when they log into their dashboards. They think they’re looking at their actual, honest to goodness data. So let’s clear some things up:
1. Your data is fake.
“What are you talking about! It’s not fake, there are graphs!” Your data is sampled. In some situations it’s still statistically significant. In fact, in most cases it is, so don’t panic yet.
2. Want access to your real unsampled data? Fork over $150,000.
For major corporations it’s pocket change. For the average person with a small site, your sampled data is still statistically significant, so it’s no big deal. If you’re a start up company who is still poor but is experiencing rapid growth, you’re out of luck. Break out your wallet.
3. If your company is expecting/experiencing rapid growth & has set up a bunch of custom events, of the four leading analytics companies, Google Analytics Premium is by FAR the cheapest.
If you hit 5 billion events per month, Google Analytics Premium bumps up to a flat rate of $220k. Adobe Analytics jumps up around $7.4 MILLION dollars per year. That is not a typo, it’s a legit quote. If you’re scaling crazy fast and need quality data, Google Analytics Premium is your friend from a financial perspective.
4. Unsampled, pure data is freaking expensive.
It just is. If you really need it, surrounded by a UI that isn’t terrible, be prepared to shell out some serious cash.
5. I previously mentioned that sampled data is statistically significant for most companies, so who cares about whether data is sampled or not?
CMS companies in particular need to care. Let’s say a company has global analytics tracking. Their 4 largest clients may hit 3 million events, 2.5, 2, and 1 million events per month. They may also have a handful of 100k — 250k events-per-month clients and so on into tiny client land.
Google samples the daylights out of your data. The higher the number of monthly events, the worse your sampling rate becomes.
From a global tracking perspective looking at high level metrics, sampling is no big deal. However, if a 100k events-per-month client calls and requests a report about mobile device traffic to their primary domain, you’re statistically SOL. You can pull the report, but the drill down data will be garbage due to the crazy sampling rate.
The worst sampling rate I’ve come across in Google Analytics Free was .02%, but you get what you pay for.
The moral of this story:
For small sites and small businesses Google Analytics Free is a viable option. Your data is “fake”, but still statistically significant.
If you’re a rapidly growing business with a pile of domains being tracked under one account, eat the cost and upgrade to Google Analytics Premium. From a scalability perspective it’s the cheapest option, and you can pull unsampled reports to obtain accurate data all day long if you want to.
I get to chat with quite a few designers and UX pros in my digital and real life wanderings. One thing I find fascinating, is that job titles across teams are so bizarrely fluid.
Every once in a while I stumble across teams with matching titles, but upon further digging I discover that the titles mean completely different things in the 2 organizations.
So lets take a look at this.
Part 1: Why aren’t there set standards for job titles in the design & UX industries?
This is one of the most bizarre aspects of working as a UX pro or a designer. Pull up a job board, and search designer. You’ll get hundreds of hits. As a designer, this will fill you with glee… until you start reading the job descriptions and you realize that only about a quarter of them align with your skill set.
Some common descriptions?
Designer = Strictly A Graphic Designer.
Designer = Strictly An Interaction Designer.
Designer = Strictly A Front End Developer.
Designer = UX Pro with research, content strategy, IA or a variety of other specialty backgrounds
Designer = Generalist who can handle 3 or 4 of the above skills in various combinations
What the what is up with this giant rift of job title understanding? It’s a mess. Even designers argue about what their job titles “really mean.”
The worst part is that companies without previous design experience (Believe it or not, those companies still exist. Seriously) don’t know how to explain what they want, even during interviews.
This moves me along to part 2.
Part 2: Why do design jobs sometimes turn into black hole, toxic, soul sucking work environments?
So lets say you go in to an interview, and the company rep tells you that they’re looking for a graphic designer. You’re pumped and you dive in.
After about 3 months you want to dive out… a 5 story window. Why? Because what the company described as graphic design is actually light graphic design mixed with tons of interaction design and front end development. And when you try to explain that you don’t have experience with front end dev or interaction design, they get frustrated and claim that you misrepresented yourself during the interview. They say you’re a designer, so you should be able to do all of the things. So you find yourself scrambling around nights and weekends trying to cram 10 years of front end dev & interaction design knowledge into 2 weeks so you can keep your job. (Feel free to apply for other jobs at this point if you discover that you aren’t at all passionate about the other surprise job expectations. As designers, passion drives us to creating extraordinary things. Being forced to do things you aren’t even remotely passionate about can be soul crushing.)
Part 3: How do you avoid landing in a situation like the one described above?
Knowing how to ask the right questions during your interview can help. When a company says they are looking for a designer, ask clarifying questions to make 100% sure that they know what they’re actually looking for.
1. Will this job require me to make graphics in a program like Photoshop or Sketch?
2. Will I need to create wireframes or workflow diagrams in a program like Azure?
3. Will I need to know how to develop front end code?
4. Will I be conducting any research with your clients?
5. Will I be in charge of creating product prototypes?
6. Will I be expected to build (develop) the products I design? (Seriously, this happens.)
You can ask about a million additional clarifying questions, but those are just a few to get you started.
I know this may sound obvious for some people, but folks who are just entering the design field sometimes assume that companies know what they are looking for when they interview for design positions, and unfortunately that isn’t always the case. If the person who is interviewing you says they aren’t 100% sure what the job will entail, you may want to dodge the bullet.
If you have found yourself in one of these tragic situations in the past, don’t feel like it’s your fault. Between the confusion around titles and companies not always having a firm grasp of what they’re looking for, even the most seasoned designers can end up in an interview/job that doesn’t apply to their skill set.
In Conclusion: Ask
To sum things up, don’t be a afraid to ask in depth questions during your interview. It can save you AND the company months of frustration. And, if you ask all the right questions and still end up in a position where the company is flinging bizarre requests at you that are out of your range of skills (and you aren’t being given time to master them and/or you have exactly zero interest in adding the random skills to your professional skill set), don’t be afraid to exit stage left and apply for other jobs.
Welcome to the world of the “New Smartphone User”.
“Give me a break,” you say. “There’s no such thing as a “Smartphone” anymore. Practically all phones are smart. My 10 year old has an iPhone, and so does my great aunt.”
You’re right. Everyone is jumping in on mobile. It’s disruptive technology that didn’t exist in “lots of people can afford it” form 5 years ago.
Mobile Back in the Day
I remember my first “smartphone”. I got it back in the day when the only “smartphones” were Palm Pilots and BlackBerrys.
I worked at Verizon Wireless right out of college, and got to watch the users who came in with their “SmartPhone” devices. Most of them were middle age business women and men. They rolled up in their Mercedes’, walked in in suits, and asked us for help re-configuring their email settings.
They exchanged their BlackBerry pins at meetings and had inappropriate conversations while looking extremely hard at work. The “Smartphone” wasn’t cool, it wasn’t helpful for the average user, it was a business tool.
Texting Takes Over the World
Then a shift started to happen. Folks began to text like crazy on their flip phones. Parents were coming in to our store waving their cell phone bills around screaming bloody murder at us because they had $1200.00 in charges from their teenagers going WAY over the 250 text limit. (Once a dad even ripped a phone off the wall and thew it at us. People get REALLY fired up when it comes to their cellular devices and bills.)
The phone manufacturers realized that it would be easier to text on a qwerty than it was on a regular flip cell, so out came phones like the LG EnV. It was a huge seller. It was still a “Flip” but a long skinny one, that flipped open to reveal a full keyboard in all of it’s teenage text loving glory.
The the Moto Sidekick joined the fun too. You could slide the screen up to reveal a keyboard. It was new, it was exciting, and it was incredibly disruptive to the mobile industry.
Kids would come into our store, and it was like a ray of light was shining down from heaven on those devices. The gateway to general population smartphone usage was beginning to open.
iPhone Changed Everything
Then entered the very first iPhone. And nothing in the mobile tech industry was ever the same. They targeted the young hipster market — early adopters of tech, not business users. They wanted young adults who were searching for the perfect way to promote their status. The hipsters had something to prove and they weren’t afraid to drop some serious cash to do it. iPhones 1 & 2 were pretty magical. Only a select group of users got on board that early, the Mac addicts were in heaven.
“The hipsters had something to prove and they weren’t
afraid to drop some serious cash to do it.”
Then came the iPhone 3G, and everything changed again. I jumped into the iPhone scene at the 3G mark. No more CrackBerry addition for me. I became an Apple fan. I wondered how I had ever lived without this little device. I started out using it mainly for email and games, then Facebook stepped up their native game and I was hooked.
At this point other manufacturers started to scramble and really try to get in the game. There were LG touch screen phones, but they were kind of messy from a UI stance. Motorola gave them a shot too, but battery life was insanely short; you basically had to have them plugged in all day. No one came close to iPhone, until Android exploded on to the scene.
“Non-Apple smartphone manufacturers grabbed hold of Android
like it was a lifeboat in the sea of mobile they were drowning in.”
The Android platform had a slow start, then caught like wild fire. Non Apple smartphone manufacturers grabbed hold of Android like it was a lifeboat in the sea of mobile they were drowning in. Some went vanilla, others started customizing, and here we are today: with a ton load of Android devices all running fragmented versions of the OS. It’s all over the place, but it’s customizable, and the users who love it, REALLY love it. The freedom to customize your OS was a huge selling point for the tech savvy folks who had been jailbreaking their iPhones for years.
Businesses starting buying employees smartphones, parents starting buying smartphones, they started buying their kids smartphones, the years passed and now even my great aunts and uncles are iPhone and Android-ing it up when they go in to upgrade.
So why all the fuss about changes to mobile app navigation right now? “Folks have been using smartphones for years and years, what’s the big deal?” you may ask.
The New Demographic Expects More
The big deal, is that up until very recently, Smartphones were not full blown main stream. They were still a couple hundred bucks, and not everyone could afford them. You can now walk into BestBuy and pick up an iPhone and just add 25 bucks a month to your bill. Or, you can get an older generation phone ridiculously cheap.
“The smartphone demographic has shifted from the tech savvy hipsters who
have used iPhones and Androids for years, to the grandparents
who have been using a flip TracPhone up until now.”
The smartphone demographic has shifted from the tech savvy hipsters who have used iPhones and Androids for years, to the grandparents who have been using a flip TracPhone up until now. They’re also being used by parents who don’t want to deal with a wifi contract so they let their kids use their smartphones to do research for school, and by elementary kids in the classrooms. A local school just started a BYOD program, and they’re including smartphones in the program.
We’re dealing with a brand new demographic of mobile users here folks, many of whom have no idea what a series of stacked lines in a square mean (hamburger icon to you). And they expect more.
Disruptive Tech: A History
I think of it this way. Back in the 80’s, DOS was where it was at. Prior, if you wanted to program, you ran around punching holes in things and feeding your masterpiece into a machine. Usability was not the key focus, getting the thing to work was the key focus. Function > than Form, UX & Usability at that point.
Did it work? Yep. Was it beautiful? Not so much. Was it usable? Barely. Websites and programs didn’t have to be user friendly back then, they just had to exist. Folks piled their homepages full of crazy amounts of info. We were on dial up so images had to be tiny or you’d be sitting there for 10 minutes waiting for a page to load. 26.6k modems. Shudder.
“Form, Usability & great UX are now the focus,
functionality is a given.”
Form, Usability & great UX are now the focus, functionality is a given. Now user friendly interfaces and a good looking website are the user expectation. The industry has grown up.
How Does This Apply to Mobile?
So now, here we are. Mobile app designers and developers are scrambling around trying to figure out what’s going on with mobile navigation and this shifty hamburger icon. Mobile apps have been around for years now, the hipsters are well versed in the iconography and the expected navigational structures, “It’s always been done this way,” is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But the way it’s always been done isn’t enough anymore.
“The way it’s always been done isn’t enough anymore.”
We’re moving out of the land of mobile being disruptive and new and people being amazed if your app actually loads, and into the land of people expecting your stuff to load in seconds, look fabulous and be usable. Is mobile moving at breakneck speed? You know it. You thought the internet transformation progressed quickly? Mobile is stomping that record right into the ground.
Mobile Usability and Fabulous UX Are Now Expected. Test All of the Things!
We need to start testing all of the mobile things. Designs can’t just be based on, “I’m the designer and I like this so I’m doing it,” like the internet was back in the early days, we’ve moved past that point in the mobile space.
People now expect your mobile designs to be sexy AND usable. How do you make sure your designs are usable? Mobile usability testing. And I don’t mean showing your app to your brother who has been using a smartphone for 5 years and him giving it a thumbs up. I’m talking about testing your app design with your specific customer demographic.
Mobile Usability Testing Tools to Get You Started
Mobile Usability Testing tools have come a LONNGGG way in the last few years. InVisionApp is definitely my favorite. You can create mobile prototypes, send them to people’s phones, and then integrate Lookback.io to record your user testing all in one neat simple UI.