Content design to keep people out of jail
The last day of UX Cambridge started with a compelling study of the challenges Sarah Richards faced when leading the Content Design team at Government Digital Service (GDS). The enormous effort put into making GOV.UK websites as user-friendly as possible meant much, much more than just re-writing content. The strategy consisted of basically anything you could imagine to be related to a comprehensive digital service – optimising SEO results, shutting down thousands of minor government websites that the content was scattered on.
Making relevant content easy to find was the first challenge. Instead of jumping between a number of search engine results, the users could find all the information in one place, structured in a logical way. Apart from substantially cutting the content, GDS also prepared a set of style guidelines in order to provide any government employee with guidance on how to write good and understandable content – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/style-guide.
Imagine how many stakeholder workshops Sarah must’ve conducted and how difficult it must have been to convince people who are usually giving orders, not receiving them, to stop working the way they used to and open up to the big changes. The changes needed to be driven by collaboration and education. That’s why GDS prepared extensive resources to guide everybody through the content design process – Design principles and resources for designers.
Gov.uk is a great example of citizen-friendly government service and should be followed (and enhanced) by every country. The content design team that led the implementation were in a majority multi-disciplinary content designers who took care of basically anything you would expect from a UX designer (user research, analytics, stakeholder collaboration, prototyping, testing) + necessary linguistic skills to enhance the content and simplify its structure. Is content the new king?
Why invest in UX for a handful of users?
Marine Barbaroux took us on an interesting journey through a couple of projects she worked on. The first one was a flight control software, which was crucial to the flight preparation team in order to balance the weight of the plane with placing all the luggage and other heavy items in a particular arrangement (and save fuel at the same time). Common problems that the team encountered (which almost resulted in an employee strike) were diligently studied by the researcher through observations and interviews. All of this to end up only giving bigger screens to… the employees, because the company couldn’t afford redesigning the software time-wise. That’s a great example showing that even with great work spent on research, sometimes we are constrained by the “higher power” of the mystical “stakeholders”.
The other two studies were more successful in implementation – Marine was asked to lead the design of a software making monitoring server installations less time- and effort-consuming. The outcome had to be extremely reliable – the satellite communication systems hosted on these servers needed to be stable and available by 99.999% of the time – that’s 5 minutes and 26 seconds of downtime allowed per year! A single trip to the server room to diagnose a problem could take longer than that. Her team came up with a highly skeuomorphic design that resembles the physical server consoles and inputs, making the alerting and maintenance tens of times quicker. That difference made by great design can literally save lives!
The last project highlighted the necessary collaboration between the tech team and the UXer. A technology-driven project Marine worked on demanded some very smart front-end design solutions that allowed users to manage all of the satellite communication points they have within a single dashboard and choose the coverage area with a simple map selection tool. The map tool needed to translate the actual coordinates and the shape of the globe to a visual map, as it was just a representation of the reality and lacked precision. Neat!
Remote user testing - the good, the bad and the ugly
Dr Louise Croft Baker and Rachel Littlefair from The UX Agency gave a really useful talk about the benefits and challenges of remote user testing based on their experience in a number of user testing methods. The benefits of remote user testing they mentioned were:
Convenience in testing the experience with audience that is geographically spread out
Testing the user in their natural environment, which could mitigate the Hawthorne effect
Fitting in with the user’s daily routine and mental state, especially with live user intercepts from the website
Some of the challenges of remote user testing mentioned were:
Heavy dependence on often unreliable tech
Difficulties in building rapport with the participants
Observations constrained to the viewport – the body language might escape the observer’s notice
The speakers also prepared a neat comparison of the most popular online tools that could support your moderated and unmoderated testing. All of the technologies have their pros and cons – you might even go from one to the other on project-by-project basis, as you might need to test with international consumer users in one project or security-sensitive corporate workers in another. A very practical session!
Making sure nothing is ‘lost in translation’
The last session before the closing panel discussion that we’ve chosen to feature here was conducted by Boguslawa Kaplan and Paula de Matos. The topic wasn’t strictly related to UX, although throughout the session, the speakers have proven that there is a lot of similarities between interpreters and user researchers.
With a number of interactive activities, we have discovered some challenges around the limitations of our cognitive processes and understood how difficult it is for interpreters to translate something on the go. As UXers, we often need to translate – user insights to design and development decisions, technology to the users, design to the stakeholders. All these areas use different languages, and we are often responsible for making the communication work. A couple of tips from Boguslawa and Paula:
- Be mindful of cultural differences, not only of language-based ones
- Understand the “music” of another language – the emotions connected with intonation etc.
- Be aware of untranslatable words and concepts – e.g. if you speak with a designer, don’t overwhelm him/her with technological details
- Do a thorough domain/language research before trying to interpret what you see
- Be aware of the body language and intonation – according to studies by Albert Mehrabian, the actual words you’re saying account only for 7% of sympathy and understanding.
- Note down observations, not evaluations (e.g. “I noticed he’s designed way less pages today than yesterday.” VS “He’s being lazy today.”)
- ALWAYS interpret research findings in a group of people (at least two) – this will minimise personal biases and expand your understanding
Closing panel - Alisan Atvur, Marine Barbaroux, Sophie Dennis, Alberta Soranzo, Ben Holliday
The closing panel discussion speakers together (Alisan Atvur, Marine Barbaroux, Ben Holliday and Alberta Soranzo) represented tens of years of experience in a variety of UX environments, which resulted in a compelling discussion about the current state of UX, the multitude of job titles that have appeared within the last 10 years, and the concept of specialisation vs UX unicorns. Here are a couple of thoughts that emerged within the session:
UXers come from a very wide array of backgrounds – thus proving that anyone with the right mindset can become a UX Designer
UX is transdisciplinary – it can be driven by any job role – developers, designers, product managers, analysts, marketers etc.
Great user experiences are the results of synergy, collaboration – even in teams consisting of specialists
Most of the UXers’ work is evangelisation – the knowledge about users cannot be a privilege of user researchers – we need to share to achieve great outcomes
Whether to hire specialists (service designer, interaction designer etc.) or user-centered generalists should be a decision made by every business to fit their needs – there is space for both profiles
UXers feel immune to the problems of users, but each and every one of us has a different mindset and attitude, which is why we need collaboration
UX cannot be siloed – Everything (even a glass) is an interface and it gets designed and produced by teams of people
The difference between UX, CX, service design might just be a matter of semantics around job roles – in the end, everything is about people and making their experiences great
The business will always look at numbers, at outcomes – that’s why UX needs to share common vocabulary with business to be able to translate the benefits of keeping the customers happy
UX is pushing boundaries around digital and expanding towards other areas, such as process design
Currently, companies see the value of design and start thinking of it as a strategic asset, not only a tiny piece of interface. In the future, UX methodologies might be used in business design – to design better organisational structures and processes
The conference went quicker than we would have liked it to – there is never enough time to talk to everybody and share your experiences. This is why we need to come back next year and take part in many other events, because they are what keeps UX people motivated. Great ideas were shared in UX Cambridge and the UX community needs to keep sharing, collaborating and making sure that everything we do helps someone – be it a business, a society or a single user.