This projects is one that I will always be proud of.  Working with local companies is always exciting. Working with my city's art museum was a dream come true.

We started by conducted a large discovery phase including a day long workshop with all of the museum department heads, a humbling tasking working with such smart and creative people, but an wonderful opportunity to have access to everyone who has a stake not only in the website but the museum as a whole. We discussed all of the varied needs and  goals of the museum and in the end were able to arrive at a set of very actionable goals for the site.

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Empathy Map- Xplane I recently worked on a project that ran into a few issues when we got to the design comp phase. Essentially when the comps were circulated internally, a number of stakeholders felt their needs where not being met. You may ask how we got all the way to comps before this came up and I could talk through the entire project identifying places where the process could have been improved, but I'd like to bring the focus to the beginning of the project where I think we missed an opportunity to succeed.

The responsibility of a User Experience Designer are vast. We take a leadership role in project definition, we gather, validate and nurture the needs of not just customers but of the business and the stakeholders. I've distinguished the business from the stakeholders on purpose because I think this is where the problems on the my project began.

At this point in time most clients and most creative project teams have a pretty good understanding of the differences between users and their needs and the some times conflicting desires of the business. Clients usually arrive at a kick off meeting with a fairly clear idea of what they are trying to accomplish from a business perspective and are looking for us to perform a number of exercises to help them understand their customers so they can better achieve their business goals. Many have written and I could talk for quite a while about the flaws of this approach but this is not the point of this post...

So as a UX practitioner I am brought in to bring the user perspective but I'm also responsible for further defining, focusing and tending to the goals of the business, this pieces isn't always directly acknowledged, but it is expected that we will do it. What is even more over looked is that we are expected to understand the internal stakeholder's needs and perspectives and balance all of these with both the business needs and the user needs. It's a balancing act that takes a good plan and lots of creative, complex thinking.

This piece, discovering, understanding and becoming empathetic to the needs of internal stakeholders requires the same rigorous approach as we apply to understanding our external users. We can't assume that the business requirements we are given or discover during project workshops are meeting the needs of everyone in the company. I have often created an internal user Persona but this is still looking at from an end user perspective.

Just as I was thinking about how I could have gained a better understanding of the perspectives of my stakeholders (separate from the business goals ) and could have made sure my direct client understood that we shouldn't proceed without a incorporating their needs, ideas and goals,  I came across this article,  Empathy Mapping from the blog Knowledge Games.

Here's what they said:

GOAL: The goal of the game is to gain a deeper level of understanding of a stakeholder in your business ecosystem, which may be a client, prospect, partner, etc., within a given context, such as a buying decision or an experience using a product or service. The exercise can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. You should be able to make a rough empathy map in about 20 minutes, provided you have a decent understanding of the person and context you want to map. Even if you don’t understand the stakeholder very well, the empathy-mapping exercise can help you identify gaps in your understanding and help you gain a deeper understanding of the things you don’t yet know.

What I like about this exercise for understanding internal stakeholders is you can use to to test specific business goals or tactics. For example you could pose the questions, "How would adding live chat to the shopping cart process effect your job?"  or "What would be the impact to your department if we merge two of our sites into one?"

I can also see a possible big win in presenting these maps back to the actual stakeholders. Seeing their specific concerns being acknowledged and considered by the project team would go a long way in winning the trust of people company wide.

I'm going to try to articulate a specific process for stakeholder discovery in my next project and not just bury it in business and user discovery processes and reports. Had I outlined a process for working through the needs of a few particular stakeholder groups separate from the needs of the business on this last project, I would have been able to show my client the shortfalls of the design approach we ended up taking.

Have you had success in this area? What approaches did you use?

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social pharam graph I read Josh Bernoff's article How to create a social application for life sciences without getting fired a while back and I found myself thinking about it again this weekend. I think the above chart is excellent and the perfect tool for illustrating how social media tools may or may not be appropriate, beneficial or wanted by different users.

You know that point in a project where you have the big list of ideas and have to start slimming them down.  I think this chart is an excellent piece to start the meeting with, it kinda greases the mind into thinking in a critical way about real people, their needs and current habits.

Yes, those with Cancer have a lot to gain by connecting with other Cancer suffers but it's easy to see why they don't currently spend a lot of time online in these communities.  Cancer treatments take a lot out of you and many people still have to continue their normal lives while under treatment.  So, if we wanted to give them social tools, they would have to have high, immediate value and would need to be embedded into a process they already participate in or really really easy with a low barrier of entry.

Josh actually created this chart to help understand whether the risks involved with implementing social tools in the health care industry had strong enough value to the users to pursue. He says, "I decided to focus on who has the most to gain from social applications. Because if you don't have a lot to gain, the regulatory issues mean you may have a lot at risk, and it's not worth it"

He's right on and really asking the right questions that will ultimately protect his clients.  There is also a much broader lesson in this statement that we can and should apply when working on our own projects. What risks will your brand or campaign be taking by implementing particular social tools? There may not be a large regulatory body like the FDA watching you but there is risk involved with implementing these tools.

Is this something your target users even want, will use or, find benefit in?  If no, why would you expose the company to the obvious complications, risks, and at very least management responsibliites of emplimenting a social media tool? How will your users react to the new functionality?  Will they backlash and decided to go somewhere else? Will they be irritated and loose trust in the brand? or will you fullfill all thier dreams?   I will hope it's the later but I know doing research and analisys such as this will get you a lot closer than you might have been.

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Authortyesha
(as always, click to make bigger)

I want to share this very interesting deliverable that a designer I am working with produced. We are working on a redesign of the Big Brothers Big Sisters: Columbia Northwest site as a volunteer project through the AMA Community Outreach program (if you have skills you should check it out and do what Obama would do)

I had already done a very prescriptive wireframe when the designer joined our team and the next step we thought was needed as a mood board to get the visual design process going. In addition to the typlical mood board that experiments with type, color, imagery and tone he put together the above piece to demonstrate how the ideas in my wireframe had been realized on other sites. Kind of "concept cheat sheet."

Kinda cool. Still waiting to see how it actually works with client. I could see it being very useful or kinda confusing. But client aside it's an good communication tool for our internal team. Nice job Damon!

Have you done anything like this before?

Here's the original wire. If your into that kinda thing.

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I would encourage you to read this article over at A List Apart. In Defense of Eye Candy by Stephen P. Anderson

He makes and illustrates a lot of great points about the role of beauty and attractiveness in the effectiveness of interfaces.

What I really like about the article is that is supports the need for "complete collaboration" between the UXer and the Graphic Designer. Neither one exclusively holds the power or skills to create the most successful experience. The work is so intricately joined. I'm starting to think you can't do your best work unless you are actually sitting next to eachother working each step of the way together.

I have a little dream of finding the perfect design partner, someone to develope the ultimate collaborative relationship with and create mind bending experiences together (maybe even take over the world). What if no one hired a single designer, you had to come with your design twin? Could be fun.

A few good passages from the article:

"As user experience professionals, we must consider every stimulus that might influence interactions"

"In other words, aesthetics is not just about the artistic merit of web buttons or other visual effects, but about how people respond to these elements. Our question becomes: how do aesthetic design choices influence understanding and emotions, and how do understanding and emotions influence behavior?"

"Basically, when we are relaxed, our brains are more flexible and more likely to find workarounds to difficult problems. In contrast, when we are frustrated and tense, our brains get a sort of tunnel vision where we only see the problem in front of us."

Head on over and have a read.

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Authortyesha

I attended the first Data Viz group last night it was less and educational experience and more a night of posing questions, which was kinda fun. I was super impressed by the turn out and the variety of folks who had a true interest in this sort of thing. So wonderful! Here are the little sparks I took away and am thinking about:

*Expressing ideas vs. Expressing data

*Making a connection with someone or something that generates ideas is a good interaction, and could be called art.

*What types of things can we as designers do to develop your trust in the data?

*Try to merge the gap between useful and beautiful.

*Reduce the time it takes to understand.

*Clients don't understand what they are paying for. Could data viz give them something to appreciate?

I also wanted to mention as I did last night, if you are into innovative ways to display a ton of information in a beautiful and useful way I would encourage you to spend sometime with State of the Salmon created by local agency Periscopic. I caught a presentation of it at PDX Show and Tell a while back. There did happen to be a woman from the agency there last night and she spoke up once I mentioned the site, she will hopefully be presenting at the next meeting.

This article was making it's way around twitter today too. Data Visualization Is Reinventing Online Storytelling

(image is from State of the Salmon)

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Try this next time you are working through a problem or developing a new design in Omnigraffle. Each time you add another major component or your mind flips around and you start another approach, just duplicate the canvas you are on and keep going. This will save all the various versions of your thinking with out interrupting the zen like trance you took 3 hours getting into.

Then when you have to stop to go to a meeting you can review your thinking and get right back to where you were.

p.s. i went cold turkey off Viso a couple months ago and i have never looked back!

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Hey, have you been reading Wireframe Magazine? If not you should be. It's an excellent way to peek into the deliverables of IA's and UX people around the world. Jakub the author is doing and excellent job curating submissions and creating dialog around the techniques.

I feel super honored to have a little piece of my work featured today. It's a Bubble Wireframe with priority indication. I must take a moment and credit the person I learned this from. Yeah, Elena Moon! a coworker of mine when I was at Zaaz.

The big take away from this deliverable for me is that we need to have a variety of ways to express the research, information architecture and strategy we work so hard on, to the graphic designers. With this particular project I had a super collaborative relationship with the graphic designers, we worked together daily and they were present during all the strategy work I conducted, so there wasn't a need to get too prescriptive in the wires. I wanted to provide a road map to them and not hinder the creative process of graphic design. The client was also in the middle of rebranding so we didn't have a clear directive on visual elements at the point that I made this, so I couldn't even begin to make decisions around navigation design or page structure.

Do you use this method?

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Authortyesha

I've been digging Wireframes a great new blog showcasing the work of those of us in the UX trenches and highlighting the new and the tried and true of wireframing. Today Mr. Linowski posted about using templates that looks less formal and more like a sketch. I've found this type of wire to be super effective in putting to bed the whole "is this what it's going to look like?" argument. Clients and research subjects alike seem to have no problem understanding the concept of a wireframe when I use it. It's like magic. Here are a few I did recently. These are three different ideas a comparison tool. I've been doing user interviews and then getting their opinion on these at the end. It's going pretty well so far. I'll report back when the research and design is done.

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