Wednesday, August 8, 2012

User Experience Design is Not a Sprint - It's a Process

One of the biggest problems I see in my design practice is the design "sprint". A sprint is where a designer (like me) will crank out a lot of various designs very quickly. I can do this, I am good at it actually, but it's a bad way to do interface design. Sprints came from the advertising agency world and really has zero place in web product development. I think a lot of people don't understand how to do SCRUM / Agile development and assume that you can "go Agile" with design by having your designer do sprints.

A sprint competition - vs. - a results oriented growth process. Which is better?
On the left are Olympic sprinters running for gold. They are competing with other sprinters simply to be fastest.  The one and only goal in this competition is speed. Only one person wins. On the right is a tomato plant from my garden bearing 50+ tomatoes and it's still growing, a lot. I think this is a good metaphor for technology start-ups since the tomato follows a growth  process to bear fruit.

The tomato starts as a seed (the founder's idea) and then sprouts to life with some water (funding). As the plant "starts" you have to nurture it carefully give it water, sunlight and nutrients (i.e. make strategic decisions about your business). Only by giving your tomato some love will the plant grow, the more sun/water/nutrient love you give it, the faster it grows. But you still can not rush the process. You must let the plant perform it's growth process naturally, be patient, and soon it will start flowering. Flowering is like launching your product and just because you've launched doesn't mean you're done! You're simply in the flowering phase, attracting bees (users). If you're tomato has started & grown well it will have a profusion of flowers. If you're stingy with your love to the tomato, it will show, and you won't get that many flowers, and it won't be enticing to the bees.  Incidentally it helps to have other flowering plants around your veggie because this really get's the bees excited about your tomato. This is like positioning your start-up well in the marketplace. User-bees visit (your website) & pollinate (interact with) your plant, eventually creating fruit. Once pollinated the fruit (revenues) still need to ripen. At first, the fruit is slow so you keep tending to your plant, ripping out weeds, eradicating pests, giving it love, making it and the bees as happy as you can. If you check-out for a week or so, you can undermine all the effort you already put in, and literally loose your fruit before it ripens. Just like If you're a good start-up gardener you'll have so many tomatoes you'll have to "put them away" (save money in the bank).

Over the past year I've encountered the sprint a little too often, and they never work out. Especially for complicated software products this is a stupid way to approach design. An interface is a visual and sensory experience. You NEED visual and interactive design thinking to translate the technical back-end components into something meaningful for human beings. In a start-up environment, is it the designer's purpose to compete with the rest of the team? Is their only goal to be fast? To "beat" other people in the company? Are the executives supposed to be like trainers? Constantly staring at the clock freaking out about time? 

Why do so many people like the idea of design sprints? I would LOVE to hear other people's thoughts. Is it about money? Do executives feel like their saving money by trying to rush the process? Is it about ego? Is it fun to make creatives perform circus tricks? When I meet a "hurry, hurry" entrepreneur I never understand why they are in such a rush. It just makes me wonder if they have a drug problem, seriously. I just do not get it. Somebody please comment.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hello My Old Job - User Experience Design Expert Goes Back to Work For YOU

Sorry for the delay in posts over the months. I effed up. Somebody in DC dangled a wad of bills in front of my face, made a lot of false promises, and lured me into a full-time-job. I was really excited to officially be a "Director of User Experience" at an established start-up ... but it didn't work out. I was a "director" in title only and so I had to quit. I really, really did not appreciate this start-up misrepresenting the job to me. And I'm sure the recruiter violated several of LinkedIn's terms of service. Despite the falling out with DC start-up they still moved forward and published my work (which is good, I guess, in a ridiculous kinda way).

But that's all in the past now and I am back at my old job doing rock-star level UX design consulting and loving it. Over the past couple of months I've been able to dive into a wonderful classroom management website. My upcoming projects include a Maryland custom home builder and another start-up in California.

I've been reading a lot about how designers are hard to find and in high demand (in New York)... If this is true just reach out - a little further, than NYC. There are lots talented remote contractors like me who would LOVE to work with New York start-ups. Don't buy int to the pessimistic view that we're hard to find - all you need to do is USE THE INTERNET to find us. Voila!

Some fun articles:

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Goodbye Self Employement, Goodbye Info Overload

For the past 6 years I've been a self employed designer. I've been contracting for tech start-ups and small businesses. Afraid to turn down any work in a recession, I even turned to social media marketing. But then a funny thing happend over the holidays. The clouds parted, the sun shone down, and a sea of bullshit parted. A good friend referred me to a good recruiter for a good job at a good company with smart, friendly people. All the stars were in alignment. I took the offer. 

It dawned on me as soon as I took the offer how much easier my life will get. All of a sudden I don't have to "eat the dogfood" and be on Facebook all of the time anymore. All of a sudden I can cancel about 50 email newsletters I was subscribed to just so I could be "on top of things" from home. I no longer have to care what the tech pundits say (because I'm not selling web design services to anybody anymore). I don't have to use foursquare, I don't need to care about "location based services".  I don't have to play Farmville to learn "game design" tricks. No more chasing technology trends just so I could "talk the talk". I could actually revert back to a dumb phone,  save some money, get rid of all the annoying, distracting, notifications!!! I can get my privacy back. I don't have to "live my life online" I can actually just ... live. I won't have to care about "reputation management" and I can metaphorically pee all over my stupid, invasive, abusive LinkedIn profile. (Does LinkedIn Actually do anything for job seekers?) No more small clients to get on my case because I didn't reply to an email over my weekend. I can literally, just, login to Gmail once a week. Actually, I think I'll drop Gmail and become an Apple girl because I don't want to socialize with 13 year olds on Google +.

I am sooooo looking forward to the stress reduction AND a long commute to Washington, DC. The commute will be relaxing after being self employed.