Growing Relationships by Understanding Values

The office ecosystem is an unusual place. The building where I have my office is large by any standards. There are roughly 100 different companies with more than 500 actual people working for them. You could assume that an environment like this would adopt all the benefits of a co-working space, but not everyone is onboard. Agencies often complain that they are not comfortable having their clients so close to their competitors. Instead, I believe they should focus on the value they get from having great relationships with these other companies.

Values drive relationships

You see, relationships have their foundation in values. It’s about what you bring and what you expect. All relationships are different from each other, but they all depend on expected values to be healthy. For instance:

MY DOG brings me happiness, daily exercise, and a feeling of responsibility and caring. In return, she gets exercise, food, shelter, and – most importantly – love in return.

Happy dog

MY CLIENTS get an agency-like quality delivery without the bureaucracy. They’ll get it on-time and hassle free. In return, I get long-term engagements and clients that adapt to my way of working.

FACEBOOK brings me updates from close and not-so-close ones that simply wasn’t possible in the past. It’s a great experience and although there are things that could improve, the positives outweigh the negatives. The value it brings me in my daily life verify it’s worth. In return, I bring Facebook content and engagement. It might seem trivial, but it’s not trivial for Facebook.

Stable relationships thrive on balanced values. Each one of the examples above are different in the values the given/received, but without them they are bound to end.

What values do you bring?

Think about it, what do you bring to your relationships? What values do you bring to that relationship with your significant other, customers, or services? What do you expect from them? And does it really matter? If you are unsure of what value you bring, you may have trouble maintaining that relationship. Someone may end up feeling deserted.

What does this have to do with user experience?

People don’t understand what a user experience designer does. When they ask, I tell them that I help companies align their product’s value with the expectations of their users. Maybe they’re not utilizing their values to get the best results. You certainly don’t want your users to expect too much and end up disappointed. Even giving them more than they expected can leave them feeling overwhelmed. This is why aligning values and expectations is so important. It’s the first step to building long term relationships with your customers.

So, either you’re providing value or you’re not – are you ready to find out?

UX is Much More than Software

My Process for Understanding the FULL User Experience

Most companies are beginning to understand how important user experience is for their bottom line. They are actively trying solve or avoid these problems, but tend to just focus on their software. What they miss is creating a user centric solution is just a portion of the full experience that the user will have.

I am usually given a set of pages that a company wants me to pay extra attention to (homepage, category, and product pages). While these pages are critical to the customer’s user experience and business performance, there is a lot more to look at. It’s important to keep in mind that great user experiences take time to build and maintain, but can be demolished in just a couple of seconds. Today’s consumers demand an experience that works reliably and functions exactly how they expect it to. It is critical to look beyond the main pages of the website to see where mistakes can be made.

The Process

When working with e-commerce companies, I like to run through a full sales process to get an idea of what a regular customer will experience. The usual procedure for analysing the full user experience looks something like this:

I then repeat this entire process for mobile and tablet. This way I know if the experience is universal across all possible platforms and may not have issues associated with responsive design issues.

More than Just Software

As you can see, the total user experience is so much more than just the three pages that most companies want me to focus on. Even if you don’t have the same chain of interactions as e-commerce, there is so much more to your user experience than the interface that your customer sees.

Is your customer support easily accessible and helpful? Do you give added value in your communication with me? Are your order confirmations and invoices easy to understand, printer-friendly (people still print!), PDF-friendly and OCR-ready?

What I say I do things differently, I mean it. I choose to work with a company to understand all aspects of their solution. After all, what good is having the perfect product page if it doesn’t work on mobile, if the customer support is not friendly, and there’s no clear information sent after purchase?

The user experience is much more than a few pages, so let’s stop treating it like it is.

Hey Siri, what’s the future of user interfaces?

About a month ago, the Apple Watch finally launched in Sweden – nearly three months after the US launch. Although the watch itself hasn’t really excited me, I was still very eager to try out this new kind of device. It represents a new product category that I have been interested in exploring. What would a device like this mean to my everyday life? Would I actually use it? Would I enjoy it? Apple has proudly labeled it as “their most personal device yet” and I was eager to see how true that was.

So far, my friends reactions have been entertaining. They have gotten more excited about this than the usual gadget. “What can it do? What do you use it for? Can I see it?” are questions that are immediately asked.

Now, this is not a full featured review of the Apple Watch. I recommend you go to TheOatMeal, The Verge, and Medium.com for indepth look at the all the pros and cons of it. I will briefly touch upon some of the things that I was worried about before I got it and what has surprised me since.

Hands On with the Apple Watch

I should say that besides being excited about new technology in general, my reason for getting the Apple Watch was to see if it would curb my phone usage. While it does sound a bit ironic that I would use one device to use another less – it has actually reduced the time I spend using my iPhone.

My iPhone is my connection to my personal and business world. I use it, especially in the evenings, to keep track of all email that is coming in. Before the watch, the use case was that I’ll pull out my phone to check my email, but look at Facebook, scroll through Instagram, and then flip through Twitter. Instead of checking my email (1 minute), I’ll spend a good 30-45 minutes browsing all my social media channels. The Watch allows me to see any important email coming in, but would be too small to pull me into the social media loop. This has probably been the most rewarding benefit of the Watch so far.

Things that have pleasantly surprised me so far:

Apple Watch Siri

What’s Next?

As the technology changes, the way it can be integrated is going to change as well. What is the next evolution for products like Siri? The next Apple TV would only benefit from a Siri integration. Think about it, early voice controlled systems were limited because they were … dumb. Saying ‘Switch to channel 5’ is more complicated than just pressing ‘5’ on your remote. A single action is always easier to perform when it has a dedicated button, but performing a series of actions using an intelligent backbone will changes things.

Instead of going into TV Shows > Purchased > Suits > Season 4 > Latest episode > Play, I would be able to say ‘Hey Siri, play the latest (unplayed) episode of Suits’. Siri would understand the actions needed to bring up the episode, know what seasons/episode is next. and simplify the entire watching experience.

‘Hey Siri, show me the news’ would show me the latest news based on my news settings in News.app. It would pull together all relevant news clips from different networks as well as online sources like the Verge.

It would be able to perform searches and show me video content;
Hey Siri, how do I make a Martini
Hey Siri, show me top goals by Steven Gerrard
Hey Siri, show me the highlights from the latest Liverpool game

Interactions have previously been solely action triggers; pressing X performs X. As our access to data and content continues to grow, user interfaces will need to be more complex to allow users to easily perform custom actions; action + content + time. As each of the parameters will be dynamic, buttons can no longer be static.

Clearly UX and UI designers will face new challenges when designing interfaces in the future as the market grows into more devices like the Apple Watch. UX designers will have a wider range of actions that need to accounted for and UI designers will need to design user interfaces that are more dynamic and customizable.

Understanding Pain Dream Fix

I absolutely love this image. It clearly communicates how we should be thinking about developing and marketing our products. The customer is focused on their pain point and looking to the open market to provide them with their solution. Your product isn’t what they want, the end result is. Your customer doesn’t want your vacuum cleaner, they want a clean apartment. They don’t want an iPhone, they want the solutions it brings: the mobile business management, staying in touch with friends and family, etc.

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Pain Dream Fix

“Pain, Dream, Fix” is a strategy originally used for creating great sales copy and has become something that many designers, both physical and digital, use every day. It puts you in the mind of the user and helps you to empathize with their current pains, think about their dream without the pain, and present them with the solution that would make the pain go away. Let’s take a minute and use this strategy to understand Mario’s and his problem:

As you can see, without this strategy it would have been difficult for Mario to find success. As a product/solutions developer, if you fail to understand the user, you risk distancing yourself from them. You are trying to sell them a solution to a problem they don’t have. Once you use “Pain, Dream, Fix” to accurately identify the pain points and envisioned the dream, the fix becomes an easy sell. You can offer the right solution because you truly understand the users struggle and what they see as the ideal outcome.

Henry Ford famously said,

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Not only did Mr. Ford bring people the “faster horse” (pain fix), but be brought them something completely different while solving their pain. He brought them the dream.

Image from Samuel Hallick’s book User Onboarding which I highly recommend that you get.

What movies I’ve watched and books I’ve read

Getting two weeks of vacation from work means getting time to catch up on things I’ve been meaning to watch, read and do. Here’s what I’ve enjoyed the most the past two weeks:

Books

Magazines

Movies (I’ll let the trailers speak for themselves)

I am Professional Because I am Personal

Just like all small business owners, I want to improve everything about my business. I want to find new ways of connecting with audiences, use better tools to work more efficiently, and manage my cash flow with expertise. So I hunt for the perfect solution that will result in amazing client satisfaction, increased income, and more time to invest in my personal growth. I work most evenings and spend my weekends and holidays with business on my mind.

However…

When it comes to my personal development, I fear change. Something close to guilt creeps in. Taking that day to relax creates moments of introspection. Should I be taking this time? I know it’ll make me more productive tomorrow, but…

My walks in the forest make me think more clearly. They help me consider new, creative solutions to the problems I’m tackling, but that feeling shows up again. Why would I find it difficult to enjoy the life that I have worked so hard to have? Meditation, focus on clear communication, a laid back attitude, better relationships with those I love – these things would surely allow me to live a happier life and could only affect my business positively. Right?

Perspectives change.

I recently read Fredrik Eklund’s book, “The Sell”. For those of you who haven’t read it, Fredrik is a Swede that moved to New York and became the number one real estate broker. The book was pretty good, but there was a specific passage that stuck with me. He talks about the brokerage he was working for wanted all of their brokers to have a professional Facebook page in addition to their personal ones. That way, their clients would connect to the professional page and leave their personal one alone. I’m pretty confident that this isn’t a unique situation in the corporate world. Fredrik had a take on it was very different. He refused to create a separate profile with the words:

“I am a professional because I am personal.”

It makes so much sense. I am a professional because I am personal. It doesn’t matter if you’re a global company with thousands of employees, or a one-man company like me, it simply makes sense. People hire me. They want my skills. I know I am not the best UX designer in the world, but I am the only one with my background, skills, and experience. My way of working with my clients, my communication methods, and my personality define me.

This is what makes me… me.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the balance between your professional and personal life. The managers at Fredrik’s last workplace couldn’t understand that the two actually can help each other. Whatever makes you feel better in your personal life – Do it. It will surely bring about positive change to your work life as well. Find a way to take that day off that you desperately need. If you need to change your working environment for a few hours, make it happen. Even if you think staying at home every day will bring positive change, then seriously consider changing your career.

…and I am content

I am writing this on a plane to Stockholm. I am meeting with a potential client in the banking industry that I would love to work with. They do amazing stuff by operating primarily with individuals who trade stock (think: Robinhood.com), so it’s an area that’s close to my heart. Often when I go into meetings like this, I feel the need to dress up. On this occasion though, I think I will stick to who I am. A real person in jeans and a t-shirt. I have decided to stay confident in who I am, what I do, and how I do it. This is what it’s like doing business with me. I am professional because I am personal.

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A t-shirt and jeans sort of guy with an awesome dog.

I am happy to say that I am taking two weeks of vacation starting July 10th. Here’s to making these weeks just about personal development and relaxation! I will be back around the 27th more enthusiastic, more personally evolved, more relaxed, and an even better businessman.

MVP – Is Your Product Really Minimum AND Viable?

Our tech community loves the term MVP (minimum viable product) to describe the first version of their product. Unfortunately, many ambitious product launches show that they are neither viable or minimum. They prove to be far too complicated to really connect to the user. Staying true to the core functionality of a product may be difficult, but it is necessary to finding success.

While we were preparing to launch Dispatch, we understood that the main goal of the app was to provide effortless, private communications to the users. However, during the development process, we had many intense conversations about features we couldn’t live without. This process of over-complication threatened to derail the product before version 1 (or .01!) had even shipped. We had even taken time to build wireframes and designs for several features that we thought would be rolled out soon after launch, but hadn’t covered basics like profile management! Features like a to-do feature, geo-tagged videos, and a heat map were put on the back burner to ensure a successful launch.

We did what every team does when creating new products. We tried to think of everything. But until you’ve launched, you need to slow down and consider the user and how they will use it. Here are some tips to make it easier for you to launch your product and keep MVP in mind.

1. Build an MVP

Focus on which feature(s) is the true core of your product. For example, Twitter’s core is the ability to post updates to your followers. Had Twitter focused on direct messages, hashtags, images, and videos would they have found the success that they enjoy today? Those features add value to the end product, but if the user doesn’t fully understand the core use, what good is it? So I recommend you focus on the true purpose of the product and can clearly communicate it to others. Hint: You should be able to to say this in once sentence.

2. Execute it

Put your product in the hands of your users, let them experience it, and listen to them talk about it. Their real life scenarios will give you a deep understanding of what value it brings to them so that you can understand where it succeeds and where it fails. Use a diverse group of users to give you the best view of how it would be used in the wild.

3. Learn and Iterate

Using the information you’ve collected, you now know if your product performs as designed and what additional functionality your users want. Now you can correct any mistakes and begin adding features (like direct messages on Twitter) to round out that experience!

I know how exciting it can be when you think of all the features you could implement. Make sure to staying reasonable and anticipate the needs of your user. Keep a close eye on development times and the associated costs for each of these features to see if it is really worth it in the long run.

“Is this enough? Maybe if we add and we’ll attract a larger user base. Right?”

Staying true to your initial product is difficult and can be frightening. Letting these doubts drive your product development may harm your product in the end. I sincerely believe it’s better to be loved by a few than liked by many.

How designers can earn a seat at the table

Spot on from Marc Hemeon in this AMA on how designers can earn a seat at the table and gain more influence. I thought all of his answers were really good but this stood out to me.


Hello Noam!!! Damn. Excellent question!

For context here folks, Noam is an incredible human, founder who exited to YouTube, where he became the Director of Product for YouTube and was responsible for many consumer facing parts of YouTube.

As you know, I have always struggled with wanting to have more influence in a company as a designer, at YouTube I always felt the PMs had much more power than the designers and I would get frustrated more designers werent mentioned in the press when a redesign would roll out or a new feature would be talked about – I always wanted a list of designers and engineers names attached to these articles as well. For example this Wired article has a photo of you, Kurt, Nundu and AJ only :( http://www.wired.com/2012/08/500-million-youtube-channels/ When that article came out it bruised my ego a bit – I felt I had a ton of influence on the YouTube leanback experience and wanted some accolades. I realize now how immature and wrong my attitude was.

I now have a massive appreciation for the amount of work it takes in an organization to create new products and features, especially at large companies like YouTube and Google. Heck, even at small companies like North (just 5 full time people) – we can’t do anything without each other. There really is no room for entitled credit hogs who are just in it for their own ego and increase in social capital.

Designers can earn and maintain a seat at the table a few ways: 1. Be easy to work with and listen to everyones feedback (no matter how whacky it is). Don’t raise a ton of objections when you listen, take notes and truly listen.

Have an opinion. Never criticize a product or UX feature without at least having an alternative to present and share. No one likes a complainer

Present design ideas in the way your stakeholders need to hear them. Do you need to do a 1:1? through it in a keynote presentation? Get buy in from your UX Director first before sharing with others? Do you need to print everything out? Do you need to make a prototype? Every company culture is a bit different and all humans learn differently – I have seen a ton of good designs get looked over because they were communicated poorly. Take the time to flex your communication style in a way others can understand.

Actually solve the problem – don’t just make it look pretty, solve the darn UX problem! I’ve found everyone can get behind a smart UX solution. Designers tend to try to solve design problems with shiny UI and not UX

Give others credit – No designer creates in a vacuum, they are influenced by everyone on the team – nothing worse than someone standing up saying “I solved our sharing UX with this new feature” – better to say – I’ve been working closely with Kevin, Caleb, Jonathan and Ryan on a better way to share articles”

Always follow up and hit your deadlines – if you tell someone you are going to mock up an idea then mock it up! even forgetting to follow through one time hurts your credibility.

Get behind company style guides and existing heuristics – soooo many designers, when they first get to a company want to just redesign everything – chill the F out and take it all in first and understand why things are the way they are – being careful of course not to fall for group think as expressed with the monkey and banana story (read more here: http://johnstepper.com/2013/10/26/the-five-monkeys-experiment-with-a-new-lesson/)

Drink Water

Not sure if I fully answered the question – hahahhahaha

The days are long but the decades are short

Over and over my mind wanders back to this great post by Sam Altman. It’s a while since I turned 30 but I can honestly say that I wasn’t as clear thinking and had as much perspective as Sam seems to have.

Here are a couple of my favorite highlights:

On work: it’s difficult to do a great job on work you don’t care about. And it’s hard to be totally happy/fulfilled in life if you don’t like what you do for your work. Work very hard—a surprising number of people will be offended that you choose to work hard—but not so hard that the rest of your life passes you by. Aim to be the best in the world at whatever you do professionally. Even if you miss, you’ll probably end up in a pretty good place.

I always thought that it was mainly in Sweden people were offended by hard-working people (because of Jante) – but apparently it’s the same in the US. It’s fascinating and disturbing how much energy people can put into this.

On money: Whether or not money can buy happiness, it can buy freedom, and that’s a big deal. Also, lack of money is very stressful. In almost all ways, having enough money so that you don’t stress about paying rent does more to change your wellbeing than having enough money to buy your own jet. Making money is often more fun than spending it, though I personally have never regretted money I’ve spent on friends, new experiences, saving time, travel, and causes I believe in.

Love making money and love spoiling my wife.

Remember how intensely you loved your boyfriend/girlfriend when you were a teenager? Love him/her that intensely now. Remember how excited and happy you got about stuff as a kid? Get that excited and happy now.

This seems to be so obvious, yet it’s so hard to live by day-to-day.

Be grateful and keep problems in perspective. Don’t complain too much. Don’t hate other people’s success (but remember that some people will hate your success, and you have to learn to ignore it).

See above.

Growth

Although I quite recently touched the subject of staying small, I thought this blog post from Offscreen was too great not to mention.

Here’s a great excerpt but you should really head over and read the entire thing:
—-
I love going back to an essay in issue No7 titled “Human Scale”, written by fellow Australian and Icelab co-founder Michael Honey. He writes:

‘It doesn’t scale’ is a criticism levelled at many new ideas. (…) But how many things which are good when small get better by becoming bigger? (…) Humans are good at family, middling at community, dysfunctional as nations, and self-destructive as a planet. What doesn’t scale is our ability to relate to each other as human beings instead of target markets — as eyeballs to monetise.

And then there is this recent interview with Jeff Sheldon of Ugmonk fame in which he talks about being proud of staying small:

“We’re not growing a hockey-stick growth, but we’re growing enough. We’re building that fan base and are in it for the long haul, so I’m able to keep it really small and handle every part of the business or almost every part of the business, which does limit me on the creative side sometimes. I can’t release a hundred products every year. I can’t speak at dozens of conferences. I have to limit everything I do. (…) But I’m okay with all those things right now. I choose to keep it small, to keep it lean, to keep this business profitable where it is. (…) I’m much more focused on building that tribe of core followers that cares about what I do, than having ten thousand, one hundred thousand, or one million people that kind of like the cool shirt today, and then they totally forget about it tomorrow.”

So here I am, working long days (and sometimes sleepless nights) to make a thing with a growth trajectory slightly more optimistic than the mom-and-pop shop down the road. And I’m finally ok with it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind growing, but I do mind growing for growth’s sake, which is what seems to happen a lot with tech companies these days.

  1. Growing Relationships by Understanding Values

    # # #

    The office ecosystem is an unusual place. The building where I have my office is large by any standards. There are roughly 100 different companies with…

  2. UX is Much More than Software

    # # #

    My Process for Understanding the FULL User Experience Most companies are beginning to understand how important user experience is for their bottom line. They are actively…

  3. Hey Siri, what’s the future of user interfaces?

    # # #

    About a month ago, the Apple Watch finally launched in Sweden – nearly three months after the US launch. Although the watch itself hasn’t really excited…

  4. Understanding Pain Dream Fix

    # # #

    I absolutely love this image. It clearly communicates how we should be thinking about developing and marketing our products. The customer is focused on their pain…

  5. What movies I’ve watched and books I’ve read

    Getting two weeks of vacation from work means getting time to catch up on things I’ve been meaning to watch, read and do. Here’s what I’ve…

  6. I am Professional Because I am Personal

    # # #

    Just like all small business owners, I want to improve everything about my business. I want to find new ways of connecting with audiences, use better…

  7. MVP – Is Your Product Really Minimum AND Viable?

    # # #

    Our tech community loves the term MVP (minimum viable product) to describe the first version of their product. Unfortunately, many ambitious product launches show that they…

  8. How designers can earn a seat at the table

    # # #

    Spot on from Marc Hemeon in this AMA on how designers can earn a seat at the table and gain more influence. I thought all of…

  9. The days are long but the decades are short

    # #

    Over and over my mind wanders back to this great post by Sam Altman. It’s a while since I turned 30 but I can honestly say…

  10. Growth

    # # # #

    Although I quite recently touched the subject of staying small, I thought this blog post from Offscreen was too great not to mention. Here’s a great…