Chapter 4 – What UX Is and What It Isn’t

This is a free preview chapter from my book User Experiences that Matter. It’s out now so grab your copy here.

Honestly, many designers seem to be very fond of labeling themselves as UX Designers these days. I think it’s probably due to the corporate focus on the value they receive when they are attentive to creating great user experiences. While talking to others and explaining what UX Design really is – and what it isn’t – I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the work I really do and the history of the field. For many years, people automatically related UX Design to wireframes. Perhaps it’s because much of the deliverable revolved around wireframes and they do vary quite a bit based on a style and purpose.

…But wireframes, though important to the bigger picture, are not the only way for a company to improve their user experience. You see, I rarely create wireframes anymore and it’s a tool that I really don’t miss too much. Most of my days are actually spent having real client conversations about focusing design decisions to improve conversions through close attention to the experience of the user and not just presenting a wireframe.

Here’s a few insights into how you can accomplish these goals and what the deliverables look like may look like for your project:

Augmenting Teams with Fresh Eyes

A few years back, I was contracted by a company that manufactures an amazing product and had recently launched a great new website. I got connected with them when a friend suggested that they may benefit from me taking a close look at their UX.

This company already had a great team of very capable designers and developers, who were responsible for the creative concept and development of the new website. They agreed that a second pair of eyes could help make things even better.

Because they already had designers that created both wireframes and designs, nearly all of my deliverables were mainly through e-mail conversations. I looked at the existing designs and gave them my detailed opinion on how conversions could be improved. It could be really minor suggestions like the wording in a button and its placement, or it could be more complex like the flow of the shopping cart.

“On the homepage, there’s no CTA visible, no price tag, and very limited product exposure. I know it’s always a struggle between brand and conversion/sales, just wanted to highlight that while I think your visits will increase, a conversion drop could be seen. Would it be possible to get “See all my products” above the fold?”
– Email snippet for a homepage UX tweak
I focused on the entire experience – desktop and mobile – and highlighted any inconsistencies that may derail the experience.

User Focused Product/Feature Design Done Right

Sometimes the process is multiphase and dependant on the origin of the idea. In this example, a client of mine provides the perfect example of what this would look like.

1. If it’s a feature that is desired by the client, it’ll usually be followed by a process of in depth learning about the system it is being developed for and all of the related systems. This can get incredibly technical. I certainly have a greater understanding of many industries than I would never have known otherwise!

From this meeting/learning process, I’ll head back to my office and assemble a very rough wireframe or sketch about the desired functionality and the flow of the feature. Basically I am nailing down how the user is presented information and all the different options and functionality. These will go back and forth a couple of times until it is well defined as being user friendly enough for the average user, but is still functional enough for the advanced user.

2. If it’s a feature/subject or area where I can see a need for improvement, I approach it very differently. Even though I’m not generally the target for the product, it’s my job to think like them and consider features that I would have liked to use. These are usually via an e-mail, during an informal meeting, or using Keynote.

Quick tip: Keynote is a great tool for visually communicating concepts and ideas that don’t have all the features set in stone, something that’s not a wireframe, and that doesn’t necessarily have a flow. The two advantages I have found Keynote has given me:

Clearly highlights the problem through a visual medium
Gives a strong representation of the solution (what is technically possible, economically sane, and represents a focus on improving overall experience)

Example: Let’s assume a project’s goal is to give a user access to manage and monitor all of the utilities for a company through an app. This company is multi-location with each of the facilities have specific, if related needs. Sure, the user could manually group managed facilities based on the relationships, but automatically providing the option for grouping could give the user more insights. The app’s job would be to create these groups without it being labor intensive.

Now that we have identified the root problem as the creation of the groups being time-consuming and confusing, we can recommend to the app developer to develop a feature that would allow the user to create dynamic groups themselves based on industry-specific standards. This way, the user is capable of yielding better information with less effort.

1 Hour Consultations

So far, I’ve talked about situations that are with clients who are long contracts, but companies also work with me on a consulting basis. This usually consists of 1 hour strategy sessions over something like Google Hangouts or Skype and are based around a set topic (on boarding, conversions, design style, or checkout flow)

This is super efficient for the client because they’ll get a lot of valuable information in a really short period of time. There’s usually not a set deliverable, but the take-aways are still very tangible.

I think it’s pretty easy to see that there is much more to good UX Design than wireframes. Sure, bigger picture elements – like wireframes – play an important role, but much of what the user encounters is actually based around smaller experiences with the product. Small features, user journeys, microinteractions, and targeted design help to create a better experience for the user and leads to better conversions for the client. As a UX Designer, being flexible with your process and deliverables based on the project can make your job MUCH easier.

ASSIGNMENT: Think of three different ways of improving your product. Now think of three different ways of adapting / trying out these ideas!

Chapter 7 – Emil from Toca Boca

This is a free preview chapter from my book User Experiences that Matter. It’s out now so grab your copy here.

When creating great user experiences, we’re often focused on measurable outcomes. Conversions can be measured in the form of sign-ups or, honestly, any other measurable action. What would it look like if the user experience is really letting kids have a great time? I first met Emil when we started working together back in 2005 at Starring. My first impression was that his humane side really made him stand out from other developers. He sincerely cared about creating great things for people. Ten years later, he’s one of the founders of a wildly successful app studio, Toca Boca. There they create apps – or digital toys, as they call them – for kids of all ages to learn and grow. I wanted to be able to share Emil’s wisdom with you and sat down with him to get him to answer a few questions for all of us.

A: Hey Emil, could you tell the readers a bit about your background?

E: Absolutely. I discovered the Internet and computers at a pretty late stage. I was never a gamer, I didn’t have a computer nor a Nintendo which basically meant that when playing at friend’s houses, I got to play for about a minute, then watch for 30 minutes only to play for another minute. You can understand how that didn’t make for an exciting gaming experience. It wasn’t until I played a C64 game called Little Computer People that I was really hooked. The game didn’t really have an agenda, but was more about exploring. Think Sims in 1985. It was the first digital experience that made me excited.

I went on to study System Sciences and taught myself how to make web pages. I figured this was something I could do for a living. While working at Starring, I started to realize that I wasn’t really interested in development, but rather building great stuff that people love to use. I got more and more interested in things like interaction design, service design, and user experiences. All of a sudden, I started to realize that I had a talent for understanding the full experience, how people work, and that details matter.

A: Back in 2005, that wasn’t really a topic of discussion.

E: There’s a book by Jesse James Garrett called The elements of User Experience, where he discusses this theory of layers and how things work together. When reading about layers – I instantly thought that this is how we should work! We were operating (pretty much like most agencies at the time) where we’d spend 5% on the user flows/experience and 95% on visual design. We also used pretty much the same methods regardless if it was a campaign or a corporate site. I tried to convince management that this as an opportunity to make more money by providing clients with a better service. At the time, this discussion didn’t exist in Sweden and only with firms like Adaptive Path that charged for research and interaction design.

Later, when working for Bonnier, I got a more traditional User Experience role and realized that this is what I really enjoy doing. Essentially being able to combine research with a strategic guidance that always has it’s base in the user’s experience and always representing the end user. Being able to assign principles to projects so that you have clear goals for the user experience. Björn (Jeffery) and I became a great team at Bonnier as we both understood the importance of the user experience but also the business side of things.

A: Toca Boca allows kids to play, be creative, and learn how to use technology. So from a social perspective, that’s really User Experiences that Matter because it will also have an impact in the future. Is that something that you take into account when designing?

E: We’re not releasing products purely from a sales-perspective, no. We’re fully aware that the choices we make have an impact beyond today. Apple occasionally uses us as an example and sometimes asks for our advice. This could be when creating a new parental lock or, as an example, when they launched their Kids category in the AppStore. We were very clear that we felt it shouldn’t be gender-based. I’m not sure how much our opinion was taken into account. Maybe a company like Disney would have acted in another way.

We want to be a positive force in the industry and make a mark. We want to create a great culture for kids.

A: How long does it usually take from idea to AppStore?

E: It’s changed over time. During our first year we released 10 apps with no more than 3 months per app. Over time we’ve started to put more effort into every app as we realised that the smaller apps weren’t really good enough (nor were they profitable). This year, we’re expanding our target so every app must be fun for 3 year olds, but also be fun for 7 to 9 year olds. This means every app needs to have a depth to be able satisfy kids of many different levels. We’re investing a lot more into every app this year instead releasing more apps.

At the same time, not everyone will buy every app. Some buy 3 or 4 of our apps whereas some families trust our brand and buy every new app as soon as we release it.

A: Designing for kids must be a blast because kids are so honest in their feedback. At the same time, I’m guessing they’re not as predictable as grownups.

E: Very true. When working with kids, you can’t assume that you know what they’re thinking. Even if you think it’s similar to something that you’ve done previously that worked, you still have to test it. It could be a really minor detail that’s different and they simply won’t like it. You have to be on high-alert at all times and test often. You have to be great at observing and then test and iterate again.

Because kids are so honest, you become very humble. Never assume that you know.

A: What’s the biggest challenge with such a young target audience? What’s the biggest difference?

E: That you’re a grownup yourself. Everything you know, you have to re-evaluate. Every interaction whether it’s swiping, scrolling, or pinching have established user patterns for us as grownups, but you can never assume that kids have the same points of references.

A: Toca Bocas doesn’t have any text, labels, or instructions. Everything is very intuitive and made for exploration. How do you achieve simplicity?

E: We’re not really striving for as simple as possible but rather want to invite to play and exploration. A simple example: Say there’s four characters on a row. One of them is jiggling and bouncing and very inviting. Kids will try to touch that character because it’s the one that’s the most interesting. Kids aren’t trying to perform a task so you have to get them excited. “Who’s this? Who’s hiding behind that box?”

Our first criteria when creating new apps is: I’m curious about what this is.

When you get kids curious, you’ll find new solutions. Invite, excite, and create opportunities.

A: As opposed to many games, there are no levels or goals in your apps. There’s no conversion, there’s just the journey and play time. What ways does this affect your process?

E: I don’t think it’s because of the process, but rather our criteria. We’ve outlined criteria for what a great Toca Boca experience is. First, you should get curious about what this is. Then you should feel empowered – I can do this, but I can also do this. Finally, you should return to find even more things that’s possible and continue to explore.

This requires working with layers and details at a certain level. There should always be more to explore.

We put a lot of effort into creating details, because we think details matter. Even if everyone won’t find the ALL the details, it’ll spread online through forums and between friends. When creating experiences for grownups, not many companies invest in creating great details. When Twitter launched their pull to refresh sound and gesture was a great new experience that just felt right.

A: Often though when features like that are released, they get copied to tons of apps. All of a sudden it’s not a detail – it’s the default way to refresh and more like a framework. You’re designing digital toys, but are also launching a video service and physical products. How do you ensure that your users will feel at home?

E: We’ve discussed this a lot and there are several ways to tie things together. The easiest way would be to have an established character (like a SpongeBob), but we don’t really have characters in that sense. We don’t even have an established visual design language.

What we do have is our values: Always include others, how to play for the sake of play, and that there should be a dimension of play in everything. That’s what guides us. We’re working with principles that are emotional rather than a visual language.

A: How do you define a great user experience?

E: Sometimes it’s “wow, how efficient” whereas other times it’s “wow, I feel all these emotions.” Regardless, it’s about a getting that personal connection – that the person that created this product created it with me in mind. This isn’t created by a massive corporation, but rather by a person. This was created for me.

A: What defines a Toca Boca experience?

E: The above and… This is something I can play with. I’m in full control. I feel empowered by this.
I can explore, I can do this – but I can also do this! That emotion is important and it should always be based around play. You’re playing with Toca Boca, but you can also invite all your friends to play too.

A: What has been the biggest insight during the past years?

E: That kids know so much more than what most grownups think they do. Kids need creative tools to be feel inspired and when they don’t have them, they don’t feel motivated. If you do something that’s truly great, then free kids to do whatever they want. Kids deserve the best tools.

I would argue that the same applies to grownups! Thank you Emil.

What is a Great User Experience?

When working on my soon to be released book, User Experiences that Matter, I felt it was important to get people thinking about what defines a great user experience. It really is a tough concept to understand because it is so multi-layered. To help clear it up, I decided to include interviews with three super smart people to get their opinions on what makes great user experienced, great.

…I now realize that I should probably add my voice to the question as well.

How *I* Define Great UX

One of my mottos when working with (digital) user experiences is to always consider the bigger picture. I must confess that my background is primarily in design and it’s my go to, my bread and butter. However, I’ve learned that design can’t – by itself – create a great user experience. As users, we are often misguided into thinking that it’s design creating that experience. It’s much more. I think I put it simply when I talk about user experiences on my homepage:

“The value of your product isn’t measured in its function and design, but in how your customers value the experience of using it.”

I’ve had this same line on my website for years, but it was the other day when I really started to think about how this applies to my own life. What products/services would I label as having a really great user experience? Like I previously discussed in the Values article – it’s all about our expectations, what we’re being promised, and what the product actually delivers.

While my new iPhone 6s is a beautifully designed device packed with great features – the user experience isn’t really different from it’s predecessor. It is faster. It has a better camera. Do any of these things improve my life in a significant way? Not really. Similarly, Dropbox might sync files faster than Google Drive, but that isn’t something that is critical for me as a user – they both sync fast enough.

When we are creating user experiences, we can’t look solely at what we are offering – we also have to understand the user’s situation. Switching to an iPhone 6s from a Nokia 5110 would be a HUGE leap for the user and they simply won’t do it. They will be far more comfortable upgrading incrementally on the platform – Android or iOS – they are familiar with. Taking the user’s situation into consideration FIRST can help you weigh what you’re adding with the needs of the user.

So what product has improved my life in a substantial way recently?

When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Since I’ve been diabetic for most of my life, it’s part of my everyday experience. I have been lucky enough to live in Sweden (and previously Finland) and am assured great medical care and access to free medicine which is critical for me. However, I was always disappointed at how slow technology has evolved for diabetics. We’ve seen amazing apps, devices, and supplies come to market, but very few of these innovations have been focused on easing the struggle of people like me.

Treating diabetes consists primarily of two important steps: taking insulin and monitoring your glucose. While insulin pumps have become more and more common, it’s not something I’ve ever felt the need to have. You have to continually check to see if it’s working – which can be a confusing process – and you still need to keep an insulin pen with you at all times. Monitoring your glucose usually consists of placing a small drop of blood on a sensor connected to a fairly small device. With advancement in technology, we no longer have to wait 2 minutes for a result and some devices can give a reading in just a few seconds. Even with all these advancements, the procedure has not really changed for the past 30 years.

A couple of months ago, I was introduced to the FreeStyle Libre. With this amazing device attached to my arm (usually for two weeks at a time) I can wirelessly check my glucose levels at any time. I just swipe a meter and it displays my blood sugar. I am no longer bound to the process of constantly washing my hands, finding somewhere to sit, pulling out the different supplies, and actually doing the test.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

The meter itself is surprisingly similar to what I’ve had for the past 30 years. Sure, it may now have a color touchscreen display and a better battery that is simple to charge (micro-USB), but what makes the user experience great is the difference in how I can use the product.

Due to it constantly monitoring my blood sugar, I am able to quickly see what my levels have been for the past 8 hours, giving me insight into how to manage my condition. The people at FreeStyle Libre didn’t just create an app, change the interface, or improve the device – they rethought the whole process of monitoring your glucose. They focused on living WITH diabetes. They’ve identified my pain points and acted on them.

Emil Ovemar from Toca Boca shared his thoughts on what creates a great user experience:

“…it’s about a getting that personal connection – that the person that created this product created it with me in mind.”

(read the full interview in the book)

In order to create truly great user experiences, we need to rethink entire processes of our industry. Uber didn’t just launch a more user friendly taxi app, they disrupted the entire industry. That’s what made Uber a success – the simplicity and design of their app is just a result of that initial disruption.

So, instead of doing yet another redesign, think about how you can RETHINK your industry.

The Extra Effort for Great UX

One of the best books I’ve ever read on User Experiences is titled “The Elements of User Experience” written by Jesse James Garrett. In the book, he begins by telling the story of a man who wakes up and wonders why his alarm clock never went off. He goes to make coffee, but struggles with the coffeemaker. On his way to work, he stops for gas, but can’t get his credit card to work and has to stand in a long line to pay. When he is finally on his way, he is detoured due to an accident and arrives far later than he ever anticipated. He ends up irritated, sweaty, and lacking a much needed cup of coffee.

REWIND: Let’s look at WHY each one of these situations happen and how they relate to poor user experience design. The traffic accident caused by a man who had to take his eyes off the road to lower the radio’s volume. The radio had a poorly designed knob layout and was confusing to our driver. The line at the gas station was so long because the cashier had to use a complex and confusing system to charge clients. The fact that he had to stand in line at all was because the gas pump didn’t offer any instructions on how to properly insert your card. The coffeemaker didn’t work because he had to push the button all the way down but there was nothing to let him know it was turned on or not – no lights, sounds, no feedback. And everything started when his cat stepped on the alarm clock, resetting it without notification.

Can you relate?

I’m pretty sure we’ve all had experiences like this. Our technology and appliances aren’t always very clear in their use. However, we ALL are forced to interact with these failing user interfaces on a daily basis. It’s the TV remote, the pay kiosk at the parking ramp, and especially the custom Excel spreadsheet you use to track expense reports. In order to get what we want from these interfaces, we have to successfully interact with them and that can be difficult.

That said, we have seen a huge increase in good (read: not great) user experiences over the past decade. As we become more and more reliant upon different inputs, we’re bound to learn what works and what doesn’t and that directly affects the development interfaces we use today and in the future.

Assessing the User’s Needs

In 1943, Abraham Maslow introduced Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In it, he described what we need as humans to fully operate. From physiological (air, water, food) to safety (personal security, financial security, health), love (friends, family, sex), esteem (self-respect, self-esteem), and finally self-actuallization (reaching your full potential).

How does this relate to UX Design in the digital and physical world? Maslow gives us the method to understanding the needs of our users. Take online banking for an example:

Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to create great user experiences

The Extra Effort goes a Long Way

Great user experiences are the result of putting in the extra effort. When usable just isn’t enough. Maslow states that when a person is fully self-actualized, they find contentment as their needs have been all fulfilled. A user finds that same sense of contentment using a product that invested in creating a great user experience. That fully contented user is happier to be a returning customer and brand advocate.

Everyone is a UX-designer and Why I Hate the Term

When people ask what I do, I tell them I’m a UX-designer. Truth is, it’s not a title I’m a fan of. It’s true that I help companies design user experiences and you’d think the title would be suitable, but it also suggests that I am solely responsible for what the complete user experience will be. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. As I’ve mentioned before, the user experiences are made up of so much more and everyone has a role to play.

Mike Monteiro is one of my favorite thinkers. You may know him from his brilliant speech “F*ck You. Pay Me.” or his books “Design is a Job” and “You’re My Favorite Client”. Some of my favorite passages come from “You’re My Favorite Client” where Mike let’s the reader know that whether they believe it or not, they are a designer too:

“I don’t know anything about design. Bullsh*t. Look around you. You make choices based on design every day.

Even if you can’t design those things yourself, that doesn’t take away from your ability to decide that was the chair you wanted to sit on, or the shoes you wanted to wear, or the car you wanted to buy.

You know bad design when you encounter it. From every chair you’ve sat in that hurt your ass, to every coffee cup that burned your hand, to every time your finger triggered the wrong link on your phone, to every airline booking site that pissed you off. You know bad design. You hate it. “

It Should Just Work

Mike’s reasoning can be easily applied to UX-design – the airline booking site reference fits really well. As people, we just want things that work. This is, without a doubt, one of the reasons that Apple has seen such great success with their products.

Sure, the Android operating system has some awesome features. You can customize just about anything, but the vast majority of users don’t give it a second thought. Do we really think that people care whether or not you can customize what font the operating system uses? Most people don’t even know what a font is. What people do care about is getting on with their daily business. The faster I can pull the phone out of the box to start making calls, e-mailing, and browsing the web – the better.

More Options Don’t Equal Good Experience

I was recently hired to rethink the user experience of an e-commerce website that lets users customize shirts. The possibilities are absolutely endless. A user can choose different buttons, collars, pockets, cuts, and the list goes on and on. They can even upload their own measurements to ensure a perfect fit.

These endless possibilities can get overwhelming for first time users. They might just want to get a shirt where they can simply select a custom color. I suggested to the client to group options together to make the choices easier to grasp. Especially in this case, this grouping technique can help users more easily engage with the product.

Just think of Google. The possibilities are endless for what you can search for and how you can filter those results to see exactly what you are looking for. But the success of Google lies within the simplicity; that most users feel comfortable with a single text field where they can enter their search term.

This e-commerce client didn’t buy into my reasoning and thought that they would lose clients by grouping the options for ease of use. They believed that their user base desires to have all the options, all the time. We ended up parting ways because I couldn’t suggest a solution that would meet all of their demands.

I strongly believe that if you want to please everyone, you end up pleasing nobody – not even yourself.

The User Experience is SO Much More

Even though my title might be UX-designer, the user experience consists of everyone involved: marketers, managers, customer service, technicians, even other users. The role of a UX-designer is to take all these different inputs and suggest the best way to package, position, and communicate it. Success comes from paying attention to the entire experience of the user, from beginning to end.

From #mobX speaker Cat Noon (image by Thorsten Jonas):


Coming soon: User Experiences that Matter e-book

I’ve just released something out in the wild that honestly scares me shitless. I’m releasing my first book! It’s titled “User Experiences that Matter” and it’ll be available as an e-book through Gumroad.

Sign up here to get a 20% discount code when the book launches on December 1:st.

Why would I write a book?

I’ve never defined myself as a writer or even a man of many words (you probably already suspect this because of my Finnish roots). However, I’ve found in order to grow as a designer, it’s critical to be able to communicate your thoughts and all the reasoning behind your design decisions. I had set a goal for myself (one newsletter every two weeks) and found that putting my thoughts out there has allowed me to grow in ways I didn’t expect. I began thinking about the challenges to solving practical design problems – visual design challenges if you will – and then focused my writing on sharing how I have come to solve these challenges when creating digital products. As my writing evolved, it became obvious that these pieces together would work really well in a book!

What is User Experiences that Matter about?

The book is an easy-to-understand book that covers the essentials of creating great digital user experiences. It features everything you need to take your product from an idea liked by you to one LOVED by your users.

User Experiences that Matter will teach you everything from what UX design really is (and what it isn’t!) to exactly how you can create the perfect experiences for your products without having to draw those black and white wireframes.

It’s not a magic formula (if you know one, email me!), but rather a guide with processes, assignments, and strategy that I’ve found to work.

Who is it for?

Do you want to create digital user experiences that not only perform up to your expectations, but make your users fall in love with your product? Do you want to create a product that drives conversion, but stays true to your brand? Do you think the user experience of a product is absolutely essential to success, but don’t know how to get it there? If you’re nodding your head at all then this is the book for you!

This book will help you:

Do we need a book about user experiences?

While there are tons of great resources out there that cover everything from psychological, philosophical, economic, and practical aspects of UX design, I’ve yet to find a book that covers the basics of creating great digital experiences.

For example, the first iPhone was launched without an AppStore. Mind blowing, I know. Our first experience with this product was with it’s core functionality. A lot of products we see released today would benefit from starting more basic and really think about how they’ll provide their users with a great experience. However, many developers make the mistake of equating more features with making the product more successful. Often it just makes it more difficult for new users to understand the basics of the product and hurts conversion.

I’ve geared the book towards helping designers/developers/product manager/companies adjust how they view their users and craft amazing experiences with their product. After all, isn’t what the user feels about the product just as important as what they do with it? Some label this as branding, but let’s be honest, that’s just one piece of the entire user experience cake. Big picture thinking like that creates strong products.

I am eager to share my experiences with all of you. I have made mistakes, grown as a designer, and taken the time to organize how I overcame challenges in a way that can be presented to you. I hope this book serves you all and help you to find amazing success creating brilliant user experiences!

Increase conversions by removing social sharing buttons

Just like I outlined in a previous popular post, “What’s the cost of ‘sharing’?” – conversions might actually benefit from not having social sharing buttons.

Turns out by a test ran by Visual Website Optimizer that when Taloon removed their social sharing buttons, their add-to-cart increased by nearly 12%.


People want to share content, not products. Even if you’re IKEA, Amazon or Target – you’re not going to have thousands of people sharing a product. And while it might work for a hugely popular product like an iPhone, it’s not going to work for the extra USB-cord, the charger or a bumper case.

Time vs. Attention: Which is More Valuable?

tl:dr For those who’ve used up their attention for the day: Design for your users attention span more than their time, it’s what really matters

A couple of weeks ago was huge for Malmö. In fact, it’s so big that they label it THE WEEK. Every year, the highlight is The Conference and I’ve loved attending this event. However, this year, I decided not to go. No, it has nothing to do with the speakers, the topics, or because my calendar is full of client work. It’s because I’ve come to a revelation. I simply can’t concentrate for an entire day – and I bet you can’t either.

Jason Fried recently wrote for Signal v. Noise:

That final line is what got me thinking. While I may have the TIME for more projects, conferences, and other random stuff – I don’t have the ATTENTION for it. Other projects or my personal life would suffer from borrowing attention from them. I’m less and less willing to make that sacrifice.

Our everyday experiences have a cost.

That conference, meeting, or app requires effort. In terms of time, there’s no problem squeezing in 7 meetings in one day, but our attention only will allow 3 or 4 of those to be productive.

This is particularly important when creating an event like a conference or workshop. Organizers often focus more on how much content they can pack into a day than if they can hold the attention of the audience. Hyper Island does a spectacular job of this when they have their Master Classes (which are quite intense!). Between sessions they offer things they call Energizers. These aren’t energy bars or sugary treats; these are short exercises that help you to refocus. My favorite? The Shouting Game is always a win!

How does this translate to the user experience?

You need to look at your product – a conference, app, or a store – and be able to understand the attention span it requires. I can keep my attention focused at a conference for around 4 hours, but I don’t even last an hour browsing Facebook. Just as it is important to align your Values, understanding the attention span of your users could help you find success. Most product owners can only measure their success as “time spent on site”, but we are still trying to understand what the real goal is. Is longer better? Does that really mean they love browsing our site? Or are having a hard time finding what they’re looking for?

So here’s an exercise for you:

Think about your day’s attention span. How much time do you have and how will you invest it?


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.

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