Latest Posts

What the Wine World Can Teach Us About User Experience Design

I took a bit of a long, meandering, and somewhat non-traditional journey to become a UX designer. After I graduated college, I dreamed of being either a lawyer (I know, I know) or a reporter but I wasn’t sold on either. I probably was an alright debater and I was a decent writer, but I knew what I was really great at — and I was great at parties.

So, I followed the path in which I knew I could both succeed and have some fun, and settled into the world of catering and event planning. Granted, my college costume parties where any costume-free party poopers were required to don a little one-size-fits-all number dubbed the “muumuu of shame” were a little different than corporate cocktail parties for 200 people wearing suits and name tags where red wine, not jagerbombs, was the drink of choice.

These parties were less about making sure people didn’t steal your roommate’s DVDs or set any lawn chairs on fire, and more about making sure you estimated correct staffing requirements so food would be served quickly, or once, how to create a historically accurate yet delicious Civil War-era menu (the two are basically mutually exclusive) that could easily be served to 200 people on a muggy July day outside a historic home while cooking under a tent. College parties were easy. This was hard.

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How to Bring Copywriting into your Design Process

How an online experience works and looks is tremendously important but it’s usually the written content strategy and messaging that really completes an authentic trustworthy experience.

It drives me bonkers to design product wireframes or a visual identity without any attention placed onto UI copy or a marketing site without any content. Imagine baking cupcakes without sugar — it’s like, really, what’s the point?! Everything needs to work together to create something magical.

I could talk to you all day about how essential it is to have a great copywriter on your team but since I’d only be half as convincing, I am happy to have the immensely talented copywriter and strategist Rachel Schneebaum able to share her reasons as to why you should bring on a copywriter to your next project. — Drew


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Rachel Schneebaum

When creating a website for your product or service (or a mobile app, or really anything with a crucial user interface component), it’s all too easy to focus on the visuals and ignore the written content — at least to start. After all, it’s that sexy logo, perfectly positioned navigation, and overall design that captivates users—right? Once the visual elements of your website are prototyped, tested, and perfected, it’s easy to just fill in the blanks with appropriate copy — right?

Well, not exactly. Your users aren’t going to separate writing from design when interacting from your website. So if your aim is to design from the user’s perspective, it’s not only inaccurate but often harmful to maintain a design/copywriting distinction.

Why is copywriting important?

Words are essential for recognition and recommendation.

Creating a memorable logo and designing a product or website that’s easy to use are essential components of the design process.

But without providing your users with the right tools—that is, words—to remember, understand, position, and talk about your product, it’s difficult to get past the “this is cool!” phase.

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Don’t Overthink It: Why it’s OK to Trust Your Intuition

If you’re anything like me, when working on a user-centered design project, you’re much more comfortable relying on carefully collected data from actual or potential users than on the opinion of one person—even (or especially) if that person is you.

But in the real world, sometimes the data just isn’t there or pressure to meet a deadline is too tight for thorough research. And especially with design, we always seem faced with millions of possible directions to pursue—sometimes none of which seems obviously better than any of the others. Sure there are best practices and design guidelines, but those might not be enough to confidently defend a design decision and rule out other options.

So, what should we do?

It’s true, you might not be the end user, but that doesn’t mean your own opinion isn’t valid. Now, of course it would be crazy to blindly obey some stranger’s opinion when you have no idea who they are or what their credentials are. But the truth is, trusting your own intuition — trusting your gut — is different from the situation described in a few important ways.

Why to trust your intuition

Your intuition, or “gut”, is so much more than “just another opinion”

Presumably, you’re an expert in your field, and you’ve spent a significant amount of time acquiring relevant expertise. You’ve read books by acknowledged experts; maybe (though not, by any means, necessarily!) you have a degree in your field. Maybe you’ve even taken classes from other experts.
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6 Ways to Think Like a Designer

In order to think like a designer, let’s talk about what “designer” and “design” really mean. I have two favorite definitions. The first comes from Wikipedia. Very succinctly, it states:

“A designer is a person who designs.

The second: “Design: being creative with a purpose.”

The truth is, every single person is capable of doing both of those things. Designer is not some special distinction and design is not some secret ability only few possess. A designer is simply someone who designs, and with the right set of tools anyone can do this sort of purposeful, creative creating.

So what are the tools? Here’s a hint, it’s not a degree, expensive classes, pricey software or a distinguished title. More than anything, it’s a mindset.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I’m not a designer,” or “I’m not creative.” As with everything, there are some people who naturally excel at design, and I believe its because those people share these common traits. But the good news is, you can adopt them and achieve all of your own designer dreams. These are some of the biggies:

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Design & the Art of Listening

Give. The. People. What they want! Give. The. People. What they want!

There was a time, years ago, when my friend Jesse and I would chant this little phrase over and over to try to encourage anyone, anywhere, to do something we agreed would be entertaining, funny and maybe a little outrageous. No one could escape the chanting, from our best friends, to strangers ready to have a little fun, to performers at a drag show.

This little phrase, always shouted in good spirit, was such an effective way of encouraging (guilting?) friends, new and old, to do something they might have been too self-conscious to do otherwise. Of course, cheers, high fives and admiration were waiting for them on the other side.

Flash forward years later. Recently, I re-entered a world of design consulting (I’ve dabbled with freelancing in the past but the allure of a steady pay check and full-time office mates to pester always drew me back). While talking to potential clients, inevitably I get asked, “What is your design process?”

After thinking for a bit, I realized the short and honest answer is: I give the people (your target users. Not everyone.) what they want.

This is much easier said that done.  Life lesson: much of the time people aren’t able to tell you what they want right away. Sometimes it takes a while to get the answer; sometimes they aren’t able to articulate it themselves. So how do you figure this out? You listen and you listen some more.

Below are my tips on how to master the art of listening for great design, followed by a video that explains this much better than I ever could:

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Q&A on The Science of Happiness with Positive Psychologist, Sara Oliveri

Sara Oliveri is one of fewer than 250 people in the world to earn her Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology – the scientific study of optimal human functioning. The goal of positive psychologists is to discover and promote the conditions that allow individuals, relationships, and organizations to thrive.

Working as a coach, she uses this background to help clients ranging from top tier law firms to nationally ranked health clubs build productive and engaging work environments by tapping into hidden wealth of a positive work environment, appreciation, and stress management.

​On a more personal level, Sara and her work helping to bring out the best in people and organizations is so inspiring to me, especially ​as I learn how Positive Psychology​ can be incorporated into the my own field of user experience and product design​. ​I was so grateful she was able to take the time to ​share more about her background, her definition of happiness and the effect technology is having on our lives.

You are one of the few people in the field of positive psychology right now. What got you interested in the field? What do you see for the future of positive psychology?

I got interested in positive psychology because I believe in life. I want people to feel like their are living meaningful, fulfilling lives. I don’t want people to feel like their lives suck, or like their lives don’t matter.

In college, I thought that the way to do this might be through international development – greater access to education, basic necessities, and human rights. Although I still think that those things are infinitely important, I no longer believe that they are the keys to happiness. Happiness seems to be largely psychological. And it’s primarily psychological, and emotional wealth that I want to help people have access to. That is my mission.

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The ROI* of UX Design

I often think I repeat “you get what you pay for” like a mantra to myself as justification to spend more than I should on a home air purifier with a filter developed with NASA to be used on manned mission to Mars or fair-trade, single origin, micro-roasted coffee beans (really, what does that all mean?). Sometimes, these products have an excellent marketing team, but occasionally, these products truly deliver an exceptional user experience.

For those exceptional products, it’s quite clear upon use, that a substantial amount of time and research went into the product, justifying the higher price. But is this always worth it?

On the surface, this might seem obvious: after all, the less time and money is invested in a project, the greater the potential profits (and the more you can spend on in-home NASA technology) will be—right? In fact, all software products require significant investments — and despite those investments, businesses continue to waste countless amounts of money on products and projects that are eventually abandoned, or on fixing a vast array of problems that easily could have been avoided for a fraction of the cost.

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5 Big Benefits of Design Thinking

I dream big. I always have and there are no signs of slowing down any time soon. But, an occasional peril of “The Big Thinker” is dreaming a little too big, getting overwhelmed with wonderful ideas and eventually abandoning the project without creating something of tangible value. Recognizing this as a personal fault, I’m always looking for ways to rein in my grandiose ideas into something workable without myself (or a teammate) going off the deep end.

Fortunately some years ago, I discovered Design Thinking, a brainstorming process that promises to help tackle big ideas in a manageable way. By definition, it is “a formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems and creation of solutions”. This mouthful sounded a lot like the corporate jargon I despise but, hey, I say,  “don’t knock it until you try it.”

The first time I explored “design thinking,” I was working as the lead designer at an education technology company. Education is filled with a number of huge challenges but perhaps my biggest was the seemingly insurmountable challenge of creating an online experience that would improve the way students (and teachers) engage with and retain information using technology.

Conveniently, since education is both a passion of mine and a field that’s in desperate in need of innovation, one of my intrepid coworkers suggested we take a free online workshop on design thinking through the D-School at Stanford University. My two coworkers, one intern and I were the only ones we could find who were willing to spend a couple hours of our time during the height of busy season to experiment with this new, potentially innovative way of problem solving.

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How to Improve UX with Machine Leaning: A Wonderful Lesson from Netflix and More

Netflix instant streaming is both one of the best and the worst products to be developed in the recent years. Best, because its helped make sitting at home for eight hours on a Saturday, binge watching the latest “water cooler TV” almost feel productive. And I LOVE being productive (especially while sitting motionless and eating cookies by the sleeve)!

The worst, because Netflix isn’t smart enough (yet) to understand my mood and my general indecisiveness with “easy” decisions, I suffer from analysis paralysis when deciding what to watch.

Should I watch something silly? Let me spend 20 minutes searching through a seemingly endless selection of mediocre movies I have never heard of eventually to settle on an episode of Arrested Development I’ve already seen 14 times. Do I want something serious and thought provoking? Yes, I’ve been meaning to watch that documentary about seriousness of the widening economic gap forever. Today is the day it’s finally going to happen! Read More

User Happiness: what is it, why should you care about it, and how can you measure it?

When designing a website or product, user happiness is a simple concept that becomes far more complicated in practice. When a product is designed beautifully, everybody wins. When your product enriches your users’ lives in some meaningful way, they can become brand advocates, are more patient when the occasional issue arises and pay for your service on time.

These valuable users also save your organization gobs of money in the long run by lowering the number for support calls, become free word of mouth and even can increase morale by making you and your team’s life easier and work life more satisfying.

Let’s start, then, with a quick example: say that each month you’ve got multiple utility bills you have to pay online—that is, you don’t have automatic payments set up; you actually have to visit each and every utility company’s website in order to pay your bills. Or, like me, you use a system that allows autopay but is overly cumbersome, outdated and frustratingly-designed and requires jumping through hoop after hoop to set up the account. This same product makes you call a customer support line between the hours of 9am to 3pm to reset your password after you’re locked out of your account for forgetting your password (a password you are later reminded doesn’t allow capital letters but requires special characters).

Then, think about all these different websites: some of them make bill-paying a breeze; you’re finished in seconds and, if not quite “happy” (we’re still talking about paying bills, after all), you certainly wouldn’t describe your state of mind afterwards as “frustrated” or “angry.” You might even feel pleasantly surprised by your lack of frustration and anger, especially considering some of the other sites you’ll have to deal with: you know, those sites that force you to engage in a whole lot of convoluted maneuvering in order to perform what could and should be a straightfoward procedure.

Which of these services would you recommend to family and friends? If somehow granted the opportunity to switch one of your service providers, which one would it be?

Now, we face the harder question: how can we measure user happiness? Which (if any) existing metrics provide information about user happiness? Do we need an entirely new set of tools or metrics in order to get the information we need?

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