How to Discuss Design Without Losing Your Mind

Creative Cloud

Every designer has been there. A design that’s not your own comes by your desk and you’re asked to provide the other f-word: feedback. You might sit there and grapple with what has been presented alone, using the proverbial red pen to rip apart what’s in front of you. You might instead gather a team in a meeting room for a glorified rant session, with the words “what were they thinking?” being spewed left and right. Both of these exercises aren’t helpful, and it’s likely that the person tasked with compiling said feedback, and the person receiving it, will be left feeling defeated. So, why is design so hard to talk about productively?

Adam Connor, VP Organizational Design and Training at Mad*Pow, recently shared insights at O’Reilly’s Design the Future conference on how to talk about design without losing your mind.

Most of us struggle when talking about the things we’re creating and things others are creating. Despite knowing the importance of this exercise, even designers often fall short when it comes to providing constructive feedback on another designer’s work. Part of the problem lays within the word feedback itself.

Let’s break it down.

Three kinds of feedback

The first kind of feedback is reaction, which comes from the gut. It’s a hard to control a first response that often is verbalized. For example: “Good lord! That’s awful! An inebriated cocker spaniel could have done better!”

The second kind of feedback is direction. This is when you show someone something and they tell what you should be doing instead. For example: “You should have made all those radio buttons a dropdown because…”

The problem with both of these is they lack critical thinking. “Reaction and direction don’t help us look at what we’ve created and understand whether what we’ve produced is actually going to work towards the objectives we have for it,” said Connor. Critical thinking answers the yes or no question of whether or not your design will meet objectives. When you start to apply this kind of thinking to your response, you wind up with the third kind of feedback, critique.

Critique is a form of analysis based on critical thinking. For example: “If the objective is for users to consider the impact to their bank balance before making a purchase, placing the balance at the bottom of the screen at the same size as all the other numbers isn’t effective because it gets lost in all of the other information.”

So how do you get to critique?

Get tools and a plan

You need to make sure you structure conversations to work towards to critique. This isn’t something that just happens. When someone asks you for feedback or critique, ask yourself four simple questions:

  1. What was the creator trying to achieve?
  2. How did they try to achieve it?
  3. How effective were their choices?
  4. Why or why not?

Before you jump in with your critically-thought response though, you need to make sure everyone (including yourself) is in the right headspace.

Giving and receiving critique

There are two facets to critique, giving and receiving. The foundation of both of these is intent, and in order for this exercise to be effective both sides have to want to improve the design. “Giving critique with the wrong intent is self-focused act,” said Connor. “Giving critique with the right intent is objective focused.”

When giving critique…

  • Use a filter – give initial thoughts and reactions, then revisit them in the right context.
  • Don’t assume – find out the reason behind the thinking, constraints or other variables.
  • Don’t invite yourself – get in touch and ask to chat about the design.
  • Lead with questions – show an interest in their process and learn more about their objectives.
  • Talk about strengths – critique isn’t just about the things that aren’t working.

When receiving critique…

  • Receiving critique with the right intent takes humility and restraint. You need to be able to present and listen.
  • Remember the purpose – critique is about understanding and improvement, not judgement.
  • Think before responding – do you understand what the critics are saying?
  • Participate – analyze your proposed solution alongside everyone else.
  • Set the foundation – use prior agreements and objectives to get everyone on the same page.

Critique is at the core of collaboration

“If you want to work well with other people, you have to know how to critique,” said Connor. “The best organizations that do this…are the ones who can critique without thinking about it, they don’t need a formal meeting to do it.”

Keep in mind that critique is a skill which you need to practice. Start small, even if that means one-on- ones. Always think before you speak, and choose who you critique with carefully because some people simply won’t share your intent to improve a design.

For more information on how to discuss design without losing your mind, including breakdowns on standalone critiques, design reviews, and brainstorms, check out Adam Connor’s full slidedeck. You can also find him on Twitter @AdamConnor.

Digital Collaging with Rron Nushi and Adobe Creative Cloud


Creative Cloud

In honor of its 25th Anniversary, Adobe Photoshop launched 25 Under 25 to celebrate the work of emerging visual artists from around the world.  Netherlands-based Rron Nushi caught the eye of the Photoshop team with his captivating digital collages. We spoke with the 23-year-old, who is currently working towards his Master’s degree, and asked him to share the inspiration and process behind his unique symmetrical composites.

How long have you had an interest in Photography and Design?

I began taking an interest in art as a teenager, about 8 or 9 years ago. I started by simply learning basic edits using Paint and Photoshop. I began messing around with signatures and kind of just went from there. It was only until about two years ago that I really began collaging.

Rron Nushi

What is it about Digital Collage Design that you’ve taken a particular interest to?

What I enjoy about digital collaging is that you’re only limited to your own imagination. When you’re working with physical magazines and print, you are limited to the physical pieces in hand. But with digital collages, it’s almost as if you have an infinite amount of creativity. You can copy, paste and manipulate to create something symmetrically beautiful.

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Can you tell us about your work for Ps 25 Under 25?

This is the start of my RATIO series. Using some very interesting Photoshop techniques, I created these fractal-like shapes. I also sourced some base assets from Adobe Stock. What was impossible when I created collages using paper, magazines and some scissors became possible with the editing power of Photoshop and the quality of Stock imagery.

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How do you find creative inspiration when collaging?
I sometimes look to online communities. Online communities like Behance allow me to share my work and check out some of the great work that others are creating. What I love about communities is that I can just open my phone, and I instantly have a feed filled with work from artists all over the world. Music is also a huge part of my work process, and I usually have music playing when I’m creating.

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Any advice you’d like to share with young artists?

My suggestion is to just go out and begin creating – but most importantly, have fun. Start with doing things almost on a daily basis. Find your niche, learn new techniques, develop your style and practice what you enjoy the most.

To view more of Rron’s artwork, check out his Behance portfolio.

Building Project Comet: Evolving Onboarding


Creative Cloud

As a design-driven Product Manager, working on Project Comet is a surreal experience—the momentum and excitement from the UX/UI community has been nothing short of humbling, all before we even launch a product. Great expectations come with a heightened sense of getting it right since when we release (soon!) everyone is using this for the first time. Along with building amazing design and prototyping features, we’ve been developing the first-use onboarding experience to help make the first launch of Project Comet a good one.

For onboarding, I’m talking about the in-product experience users see as they use Project Comet for the first time. Onboarding is undoubtedly a critical part of the development process for any product and our team has been heads down figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

In its simplest form, the Project Comet workflow is fairly straightforward:

The tl;dr Project Comet workflow

The tl;dr Project Comet workflow

 

Our task is to dissect the complexities of this workflow to keep key concepts easy to digest, reducing any ambiguity on how to navigate the Project Comet interface. Making things easy isn’t easy (but where’s the fun in easy anyways).

Where do we start

Onboarding customers to an entire product for the first time is a big task. Go too broad and no one understands what they’re supposed to do. Go too narrow and you end up getting in the way by micro-managing the interface with annoying messages. We took a look at onboarding experiences we liked and didn’t like, noting patterns and trends generally used in products used by UX/UI designers.

Design should never say “look at me”. It should always say “look at this”. — David Craib

Many onboarding experiences we saw lead you through a scripted set of interactions with messages or attractor animations. This works well for something like a mobile app which has a single workflow — but at design time comes at the cost of deliberate attempts to interrupt the user for the sake of promoting a message. This often works for the product but not for the user, and people generally get pissed off when you block them from doing something.

For freeform design applications like Project Comet, the workflow is more of a choose-your-own-adventure experience. It’s not up to us to prescribe where you’ll be in the design process. We expect you’ll constantly dip in and out of each mode as you iterate on a project.

After looking at the onboarding landscape and conducting user research, we evaluated how we could improve our approach to onboarding. We decided to explore methods which would give zero interruption to the user while they’re trying to work.

Starting with research

To break any mold of convention takes research. We wanted to better understand how people would approach the Project Comet interface and where they were most likely to learn.

After a series of in-person research and testing, it turns out there’s no one-size-fits-all method to discovery (no one on our team was particularly surprised by this). We took all of our data and observations and found patterns in the way people approach learning a new product. Some learn from tutorials, some learn just by working, and some learn by kamikaze-clicking every button they see.

From better understanding how people discover and learn, we know we can’t rely on a single approach and declare success. We can’t assume people are wired to learn in the way we want them to learn. Sure we could pop up a message that says “Hey, use feature x! You’ll like it we promise!” but if we don’t offer help at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons, all we’ve built is a really expensive close button.

Understanding learning behavior

A side effect of working on a product is knowing all the intimate details of how to achieve success. For us, we could design and prototype with our eyes closed as self-made Project Comet power users. This knowledge starts to work against you when making assumptions for onboarding experiences; it becomes much more difficult to differentiate between the obvious and the hard to find.

To combat our own assumptions, we dissected the customer journey into a series of behavior maps to understand that success is not necessarily linear. What if someone tries to make a prototype without creating artwork? What if someone tries to share a prototype without adding any interactive elements? By breaking down all the nuances of conditions it was clear a popup saying, “Hey, make a prototype!” isn’t going to cut it.

Our straightforward workflow from above, after behavior mapping, now looks like this:

Behavior map showing the possible steps a user could take to share a Project Comet prototype

Behavior map showing the possible steps a user could take to share a Project Comet prototype

These maps serve as a great cheat sheet for knowing where to introduce contextual, reactive messaging — and to evaluate which cases we would even need to use that for.

Reactive onboarding

We moved away from proactive messaging towards an “onboarding with features” model. This allows us to help users as part of the design process instead of interrupting them. An issue with the in-app messaging approach to onboarding is it’s very difficult to know when said message is actually helpful. Even with engagement engines and intelligent predictive behavior, a pop-up which says “Hey, check this out!” errs on the side of annoying rather than valuable. Since experience is a core value proposition of Project Comet, we want to avoid any experience which would be perceived as aggravating… even if it would be useful in the short term.

This model led us to consider a reactive, instead of a proactive approach to onboarding. Reactive onboarding places a certain amount of trust in the user that they will try and do something on their own. For example, if we want to tell someone about how to make a prototype, we assume they’ll click on the big “Prototype” button at the top of the workspace.

Reactive approach

Reactive approach

Proactive approach

Proactive approach

 

The difference is subtle but significant. With proactive messaging, you’re pulling the user away from a task they’re currently performing. This is hit or miss because they may or may not do what you want them to do. With reactive messaging, the user has already opted-in and this is your opportunity to educate them on next steps.

The Pancake

Carmen Ruse, an experience designer on the Project Comet team, helped create what we have lovingly called “The Pancake”. The Pancake acts as a hub for contextual keyboard shortcuts to discover as you use Project Comet.

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The Pancake lets you discover keyboard shortcuts as you use Project Comet

 

In this approach to onboarding we can surface discoverability of features in a way people actually want to use. The Pancake reacts to the actions taken inside Project Comet. For example, if you select an object we can tell you the keyboard shortcut for using Repeat Grids (one of my personal favorite features). If you’re using the pen tool, we show keyboard shortcuts for manipulating anchor points. We chose to omit the obvious commands such as Cmd+V for the sake of redundancy but keep the useful actions present. We’ve heard from hundreds of designers learning keyboard shortcuts can be painful when learning any new application, and want to solve this problem with the added benefit of discoverability.

The version in the picture above evolved from many iterations which had accompanying messages, such as “Use repeat grids to duplicate objects” or “Now that you have some artboards, try prototyping.” This type of messaging goes against our core value of “don’t annoy the user”. In the end we decided to trust the intelligence of our audience by removing as much messaging as possible.

Drive action through empty states

Keyboard shortcuts help in feature discoverability, but we still had a problem helping users understand the conditions they need to meet to be successful to create a prototype, or share that prototype. Our behavior maps led us to use the Pancake — very selectively — to help give guidance when you need to do something to move forward.

For example, you need to have artwork to bind interactions for prototyping (i.e., click a button to show a screen). If you try and make a prototype without any artwork, we instruct you to draw something first. This method is reactive to a user exploring the interface or just learning the workspace, educating them on features in the process.

As of this writing, we’re still working on the final design but the intent is to make all empty states actionable. No one likes an empty state.

Actionable empty states with the Pancake

Actionable empty states with the Pancake

Product experience > onboarding

At the end of the day no amount of onboarding beats a strong, intuitively designed product. When the onboarding process goes beyond a single click, we take a step back to ask if the feature needs improvement instead of papering over the problem with onboarding. We’re a little obsessed with the details of user experience. Nir Eyal, one of my favorite experience experts, says it best:

“Influencing behavior by reducing the effort required to perform an action is more effective than increasing someone’s desire to do it. Make your product so simple that users already know how to use it, and you’ve got a winner.”
― Nir Eyal

Onboarding is just another consideration of user experience; done right it’s transparent, done poorly it’s painfully obvious. With any luck you won’t even notice our work.

Best Practices for Content Planning in UX Design


Creative Cloud

Which came first, the content or the design?

This contemporary take on the “chicken and egg” casualty dilemma represents a common frustration among content and design teams when it comes to building a new experience. Both depend on each other, but where do you begin?

“I think that too often content planning is treated as something that’s going to happen later, magically someone along the way will create amazing content, while the experience design is treated like creating the template or the framework for that content to live in without a real concern for what that content is actually going to be,” says Karen McGrane, a user experience designer and content strategist with over 15 years experience and the author of Content Strategy for Mobile and Going Responsive.

McGrane said that while it used to be that the design often came first, there’s been a “pendulum swing” and a “rallying cry” toward content first over the past few years. However, thinking in these extremes, whether you believe it is content or design that must come first, continues to be problematic.

“As with everything else in the design and development process, the work has to be iterative. It has to be something that involves collaboration and regular checkpoints among the team,” she said.

That’s why she recommends teams take the following steps to maximize the relationship between content and user experience teams.

Recognize that Content and User Experience are Symbiotic

“The entire purpose of the experience is for somebody to be able to get to you and navigate to the content,” McGrane said.

It’s not just important for designers to understand this about content, but content creators need to understand this about user experience as well. Both teams need to be aware of what the other is creating and how the two work together to deliver the ultimate product.

At this stage it is also important to discuss the narrative of the project and ask a few key questions. What story is the client trying to tell? How do they want their target audience to get there? How can the design help deliver the message? What types of pages and content are necessary to keep the audience engaged?

Content Planning, Not Content, Comes First

“Talking through a process called content modeling is a way for teams to start having discussions about what that content is without actually having to write every single word of the content,” McGrane said.

This means you’re talking about the structure of the content, the size and shape of it, what it will do, the expected audiences, how often the content will be updated and how much content there will be. Designers can then take this information and begin building designs around these early expectations even if the content is not ready. These meetings also give the client something to think about and work with.

Here is an example of a basic high-level content modeling system that illustrates the relationship between different pieces of content on a music website. This can then be used to create a more developed content model that helps designers have a better understanding of how the content will work together.

table

Image source: A List Apart

 

McGrane compared this process to magazine publishing and designing signage for an airport. Once you know the main content components, you can begin laying everything out and finalize the details later. However, she warns of the danger of thinking of the web in relation to print, noting how the web needs to be looked at as its own fluid medium with unique needs.

Design Limitations Help Inform Content

As designers work through the design, the team will gain a better understanding of the design’s limitations such as character and word counts. They can then take this information to the content team and provide them with guidelines that will help to ensure the content will fit the design.

This is especially important with responsive design projects, which McGrane argues are also content strategy projects. For starters, letting the content team know teasers are limited to 250 characters or headlines look best at 70 characters, for example, will make both the design process and the content writing process easier.

“Knowing that you’ll have something that’s the right size and shape to fit the screens you’re designing for really pays off in the long run,” McGrane said.

Work In Real Time

Once the content team breaks off to begin developing the content, it’s not uncommon for these teams to select static copy to share with the design team for prototyping purposes.

“Copying and pasting out of Word documents is so 1998,” McGrane said.

Instead, she encourages both content and design teams to take these early iterations online and recommends the implementation of APIs that allow content to automatically feed into a prototype. Designers are then working with the actual, updated content, which can help ensure the design and content support each other, while the content team can see how their content will look and feel, and adjust as necessary.

“I don’t think you can create great projects unless you have real, genuine collaboration between the people who are creating, maintaining and managing the content, and the people who are responsible for the actual design, prototyping and implementation,” she said.

For some, this information may seem obvious, but for many, collaboration between content and design teams is not even a consideration. Having the two work together will help ensure you’re developing the best content and experiences possible. After all, the two are intrinsically connected (and often one and the same) from the user’s perspective.

Getting Started with Adobe Stock in Adobe Comp CC


Creative Cloud

Adobe Comp is an iOS app that allows the user to very quickly compose documents, be it web pages, flyers, posters; you name it. What Comp isn’t, is a word processor or desktop publisher; you’re not expected to complete all the type (although you could) in Comp, rather design the look and feel of the piece.

Use the Examples

When you open Adobe Comp for the first time you’ll be asked to sign into your Creative Cloud (CC) account. For the basic use the account is free.

Once you’re signed in, Comp displays a few examples of the sort of thing you can create for Mobile, Print and Web. As a first time user I’d recommend jumping in and seeing what they’re like, to get a feel for how it works.

adobe_comp_01

Once you’re comfortable click the + on the left to dive in and start creating!

Creating a new Document

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You’re presented with a list of sizes for various mediums. These have recently been updated so include the screen dimensions of the new iPad Pro.

For this example I’m going to rustle up a flyer for a winter holiday so I’ll choose the A4 (Landscape).

Remember, Comp isn’t a desktop publishing tool; it’s just for getting ideas down. That said, as we’ll see later, our design can be taken seamlessly to InDesign for fleshing out. 

Creating Elements

 

Adding Text

Adobe Comp uses gestures to add elements to the document. To see these tap the cog in the top right and the Drawing Gesture Help from the menu:

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We’ll use a few of these in our composition. To add an element just draw the shape and let’s add a headline:

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Click close then on the document draw a rectangle with a dot:

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As you can see, you don’t need to draw perfectly, Adobe Comp is great at recognizing the gestures, and your input is put into text immediately.

By grabbing one of the 8 handles I can resize this if I like. I’m going to make it a little wider. Now I can see the placeholder Lorum Ipsum text and actually, this looks a little too big.

Using the slider to the right of the text I can tap, hold and drag up and down to resize the text:

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I’ll resize the text box too:

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Double tapping any element in Comp will allow you to edit the contents; I’ll do that with the text here and change the text:

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While the text is selected we can also tap the Type icon at the bottom of the screen and change the formatting:

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Adding Images

I’m thinking I’d like a rounded rectangle with an image in it. A rectangle with a cross through it is an image in a rectangle while a rectangle and a circle is a rounded rectangle. I’ll combine both these to get a rounded rectangle for an image:

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To add an image, tap the Image icon at the bottom of the screen:

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As you can see there are several places I can import images from. I’m still in the mock-up stage so I’ll tap Adobe Stock and have a look at the kind of images I’d like to include.

Importing Placeholder Comp Images

The great thing about using Adobe Stock is that you can find the kind of images you want, download ‘comp’ images and decide later if you’d like to get the full res version.

A comp image is a low-resolution image that acts as a temporary placeholder for an image. Because we’re using Creative Cloud the link between Adobe Comp – Adobe Stock – InDesign is seamless so we can get the full resolution image whenever we choose.

Adobe Stock opens within the Adobe Comp application and presents with a search bar. I’ll type ‘winter trees’ and tap search:

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I quite like the image of the snow in the woods, I’ll tap it to open larger. When I view this image I get to see alternates too, I think there’s one I prefer of a single tree. I’ll tap it to view:

adobe_comp_14

I like this one but not sure if it’ll be in the final version so rather than license it I’ll tap to Save Preview and add it to a new Library I’ll call ‘Winter Holiday’:

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Editing Images

Once you select an image Comp puts it into the container with sizing handles around it. As we did with the text we can resize the image as we please.

With the image selected we get a selection of icons at the bottom of the screen.

  1. We could use this again to replace the image with another.
  2. This puts us into edit mode for the image. This then allows us to resize the image within the frame:

adobe_comp_18

  1. Allows us to change the Opacity of the image
  2. When more than 1 item is on the page we can put one behind another in a Stack Order’ using this slider.
  3. Deletes the image from the document
  4. This will unlink the graphic from the Creative Cloud and allow the image to be edited in another app
  5. Presents a menu with options for duplicating, copying and locking elements.

Rounding an Image

If you’d like the corners to be more rounded then you’ll find another handle on the frame. Drawing this left or right rounds the corners more (right) or less (left)

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Editing the document

Once you have elements in the document moving, resizing and editing is just a tap and drag away. Very soon even novice designers like myself can start to put together something passable:

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I’ve selected text and image and locked them together to make it easier to manipulate and added an image to the back to add a splash of color:

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Taking The Document to Other Adobe Creative Cloud Applications

Because Adobe Comp uses the Creative Cloud to synchronize between apps it means we can easily send our Comp to InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator to be completed and edited.

Tap the Square with the arrow to choose the application to send to:

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If you have the computer with your CC on it switched on, the relevant application will open and display your composition with all the layers available to edit:

Indesign

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Photoshop

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Illustrator

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And there’s More…

In this tutorial we’ve only scratched the surface of what Adobe Comp can do but I hope it’s given you enough to get you started. Remember that everything is non-destructive and editable so have a play!

Last tip.. For now….

Three finger drag left will undo while going right will redo:

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Adobe Video Tools Get Rave Reviews at Sundance 2016

Creative Cloud

From independent productions to Hollywood headliners, 51 films debuting at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival used Adobe Premiere Pro CC as their primary digital editing software.

Sundance, the preeminent festival for groundbreaking work and emerging talent, will include a total of 175 films made with Premiere Pro CC and other Adobe Creative Cloud tools. From in-competition feature films like Christine, Gleason and Swiss Army Man to short films and documentaries, like Richard Linklater – dream is destiny, Premiere Pro CC usage at Sundance has increased 143% percent since 2015.

“With such an ambitious film, we needed the most innovative technology to push creative boundaries,” said Louis Black, co-director of Richard Linklater – dream is destiny, which will premiere at Sundance. “Our story relies on combining decades-old archival footage with interviews from the present. We cut the film in Adobe Premiere Pro CC with incredible results.”

Sundance filmmakers are reflecting the rapid adoption of Adobe’s video workflows. Recent Premiere Pro converts include the four-time Oscar-winning Coen brothers with Hail, Caesar!; director Tim Miller with Deadpool, director David Fincher and Oscar-winning editor Kirk Baxter with Gone Girl; and director Rhys Thomas and producer Lorne Michaels with Staten Island Summer.

Adobe Hosts Must-See Editing Panel

To help indie filmmakers get up to speed on transitioning to modern video editing techniques, Adobe will host a must-see panel at Sundance on January 23 – “Editorial secrets from Hail, Caesar! and Deadpool”, two much-anticipated features due out in February this year.

  • Hail, Caesar!, from NBC/Universal, is set in Hollywood’s golden age and follows a single day in the life of a studio fixer, who’s presented with plenty of problems to fix. The film is produced, directed, written and edited by four-time Oscar-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. The panel will include the film’s post-supervisor and associate producer Catherine Farrell and additional editor Katie McQuerrey.
  • Deadpool, a 20th Century FOX film, is based on Marvel Comics’ most unconventional anti-hero, Deadpool, and tells the back story of former Special Forces operative-turned-mercenary Wade Wilson. The panel will include director Tim Miller and Vashi Nedomansky, the Premiere Pro CC, editing consultant and workflow specialist on the film.

These former Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro filmmakers will discuss their approach to storytelling, state-of-the-art workflows, and how and why they switched to Adobe Premiere Pro CC.  The panel will be held on Saturday, January 23 from 3:30-4:30 pm MST at the Airbnb Haus (596 Main Street, Park City). For those unable to attend the panel, a recording will be available the following week at www.adobe.com/go/video.

“Adobe really revamped Premiere Pro CC from the ground up. I love the interoperability with other programs like After Effects CC and the ability to do quick composites,” said Tim Miller, director of Deadpool. “We need an uninterrupted workflow between the idea and output. Premiere Pro CC is clean and fast, which is what I want.”

Learn more about Adobe at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

Learn more about Adobe Creative Cloud video and audio tools

Download a free trial of Adobe Premiere Pro CC

Best Practices for Usability Testing In UX Design

Creative Cloud

Here’s the situation: you’ve created what you think is a fabulous product. You’ve invested tons of money in designing and building it, as well as marketing and selling it, but you’re not getting the results you had hoped for. Did you neglect to check if there were any usability issues?

If a user is unable to complete a desired task, then they’re not going to stick around and your product is not going to be successful—no matter how good it looks.

“These days it’s pretty easy to make new products—there are a lot of frameworks and tools out there—but it’s still really hard to make a great product, a product that people can understand and use, a product that makes people feel good,” said Aaron Walter, VP of R&D at MailChimp and author of the book Designing For Emotion.

“That’s so hard to come by and it’s definitely a competitive advantage if you can do it,” he added.

This is where usability testing (or user testing, as it is often called) comes into play.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing involves testing and monitoring user behavior as the user attempts to work through and complete a desired task. It’s a small step that is not to be overlooked and can save you a lot of time, money and embarrassment in the long run.

Process:

While there are a number of factors that go into usability testing, it can be broken down into a few major steps:

  1. Identify what needs to be tested and why (a new product, feature, etc.)
  2. Identify the correct audience (your desired customer)
  3. Create a list of tasks that the user will have to go through
  4. Recruit the right test users
  5. Involve the right stakeholders
  6. Apply what you’ve learned

Identifying the perfect recruit

Your ideal test user is the person who will actually be using your product.

“There are systems out there like usertesting.com, which is a great service, but you’re basically hiring people who aren’t necessarily your customers to pretend that they’re your customers,” Walter said. “Choosing someone who is actually your customer, who is actually likely to use this part of your product, is ideal so they’re not manufacturing their motivations.”

How many people should you test?

“You don’t need a huge sample size,” Walter said. “Somewhere between three and five will help you understand what the problems and patterns are.”

He points to Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think, who is also known for recommending small numbers because it’s what people have time for.

“Being able to fit this into your schedule is more important than having some huge sample size,” Walter said.

Design the test

Create the workflow that the test users will work through and make your objectives clear. You want to observe the range of errors or challenges that the user experiences.

Walter recommends asking them to use what’s called talk (or think) aloud protocol, encouraging the user to talk through their experiences and frustrations.

“When they’re speaking aloud you can get into their head a little more easily and understand where they’re getting confused,” he said. “It can help you understand things like maybe this language isn’t very clear here. Maybe the navigation isn’t organized very well. Maybe the primary call to action on the page is not as apparent as we thought it was.”

Recording the process through an app like Silverback can also give you something to refer back to and identify points where the users struggled.

Who should be involved?

Anyone that plays a role in how fast and how well that problem is addressed should be involved. These stakeholders could include the executive team, major decision makers, agency representatives and lead developers and designers.

Why the design team, or a representative of the design team, needs to be involved in usability testing

“You want the people that are designing and building the software to squirm in their seat as they watch the customer struggle and get confused because if they feel that pain and discomfort, they’re going to run straight back to their desk to fix it,” Walter said.

If someone is merely relaying information back to the design team, a lot can get lost in translation.

“It’s best to spend a few bucks, buy some lunch and invite those stakeholders to come eat and watch these usability tests happen live, or watch the videos—that often can work really well too.”

Conduct a quick post mortem

A brief chat with the test users after can sometimes expose a few extra things, but primarily the bulk of the learning happens by watching the behavior.

A few more things to keep in mind

Be sure to conduct extensive QA testing before doing any usability testing or else you could end up wasting a bunch of people’s time, including your own.

It’s also important to recognize the role human emotions play in testing, using it to both acknowledge your users and fuel your problem solving.

“You watch customers that get super frustrated and lost and they start to feel dumb, which is why it’s really important to tell them at the beginning that we’re testing the software, not you. They feel like there is a spotlight on them and if they can’t figure something out then embarrassment is heightened, frustration is heightened,” Walter said. “Generally I see that as a good thing especially if you have stakeholders watching that usability test.”

And finally, don’t lose sight of what usability testing is all about.

“A lot of assumptions are made in the design process of how people will use it, but there’s no hypothesis of where people are going to fall apart,” Walter said. “[Usability testing] is mainly just getting a first look at how people actually use this thing you’ve designed in the real world.”

The whole point is to ensure you’re releasing the best product possible into the world, one that not only meets the objective, but is also something you as a designer can be proud of.

How To Tackle The Ultimate UX Challenge: Legacy Systems

Creative Cloud

This piece was originally published on Fast Co. Read the original article here.

Designers love a blank canvas. The reason is obvious: They enjoy coming up with an original idea and seeing it through to completion. However, the shiny new object isn’t the biggest UX challenge. For designers who love to geek out on solving sticky problems, redesigning an existing system is the ultimate puzzle.

Problems with legacy systems—those that have been around for a long time, perhaps before user interface design was even a consideration—go way beyond the user experience. Redesigning a legacy app is like an archeological dig, forcing a designer to push the limits of creativity within very specific boundaries—respecting what exists while imagining what can be. 

REDESIGNING A LEGACY APP IS LIKE AN ARCHEOLOGICAL DIG, FORCING YOU TO PUSH THE LIMITS OF CREATIVITY WITHIN VERY SPECIFIC BOUNDARIES.

Designers who are successful at this are willing to get elbow-deep in the culture of an opinionated engineering team that has a deep history with the product and its business goals. Users of legacy systems have a culture too, complete with strong attachments to specific functions and design elements. They may not view an effort to simplify the system as a good thing, so each change has to be weighed against the users’ willingness to let a function or element go.

To some designers, such a situation might sound like a few months of insomnia waiting to happen. But to designers who like to work with people more than theories, and with real problems more than diary studies, these constraints create a perfect set of exciting problems to solve.

Redesigning legacy systems without making enemies in engineering and creating chaos among customers isn’t easy. Change never is. To get good results, a designer needs a set of skills that are both wide and deep, and no designer who is new to modernizing systems will come to the table fully prepared. 

THINK DEEPLY AND GO SLOW

Start by thinking about how the software has been used before. A deep understanding of the existing user experience is necessary to make good decisions about which aspects of modern software design should be incorporated. The marriage of the old and new will create the foundation for a grand vision.

But don’t overwhelm users with that big plan. They’re already invested in the existing design, accustomed to clicking here and scrolling there, and they will not be pleased if they have to learn drastic new ways to do their work. That’s understandable. So while you have to be committed to your vision, you shouldn’t display it all at once. Ease changes into the system and see what happens. 

When we recently set out to modernize our own Acrobat software, we had to rethink more than just the interface; we wanted to create a connected ecosystem of products and services that spanned desktop and devices. That was ambitious, so we chose three areas on which to focus first: 1.) a visual refresh that 2.) felt natural and easy to use on a touchscreen, and 3.) fully leveraged cloud services. None of those three efforts was trivial or easy, but we had the human and technical resources to handle them all at once. A design team with fewer resources might take a more phased approach, such as working first on the redesign and touchscreen efforts while saving more challenging technical elements for a second phase. There is no single correct approach, of course; choices will be made based on corporate strategy, customer needs, and design and engineering capabilities. 

LISTEN CAREFULLY AND REMAIN CALM

The people who use your legacy system every day will have valuable insights. If you can include them in the process by capturing their feedback, you’ll get more than their ideas—you’ll get their buy-in.

INCLUDE DAILY USERS IN YOUR PROCESS. YOU’LL GET MORE THAN THEIR IDEAS, YOU’LL GET THEIR BUY-IN. 

People don’t like change, so sometimes a designer will need thick skin to be able to listen and then separate the tone from the content. A comment like “that font is ugly” may sound useless, but understanding that the user means “that font is hard to read” makes it useful. When a complaint about a feature is valid and it can be changed easily, change it right away. You’ll kill two birds with one stone: knock something of the “to-do” list and demonstrate to users that the modernization project is meant to serve their needs. The give and take is part of the process.

At the same time, the engineering team needs to be on board throughout the process. They’re the ones who are going to transform the vision into reality, so their concerns have to be addressed at every stage. If you hear the word “no,” and maybe even the phrase “can’t be done,” ask why and work through it. You have to trust the engineers, and they have to trust you.

When I was looking for examples of how other design teams have built trust, I came across this article about a Citrix initiative. When Citrix decided to use sleek, user-friendly interfaces to differentiate itself from competitors, the company created the role of VP of Product Design and started working on internal projects. Instead of taking a strategic approach that would force design overhauls on departments that might not understand the value of a better user experience, Citrix worked with any department that was willing. Its pilot project was for the customer education department, and the results were so successful that other departments raised their hands. Trust was established through example, and now Citrix’s design team works with cross-functional groups to meet critical business objectives.

LEAD GENTLY AND STAY POSITIVE

Modernization projects involve many groups of people. To keep them pointing in the same direction, a designer needs to embrace the role of leader. That takes more than patience and a willingness to learn; it takes a positive energy.

WHEN A COMPLAINT ABOUT A FEATURE IS VALID, AND IT CAN BE CHANGED EASILY, CHANGE IT RIGHT AWAY. 

Put that energy into every aspect of the work: your commitment to your vision, your relationships with users and engineers, and your willingness to bring people along slowly. This is what it takes to gain people’s trust. And once you have that trust, you can keep it by breaking your vision into small pieces that people can appreciate. Bringing people along slowly is a strategic approach that needs to be built in from the start and consistently followed until the end.

KEEP MOVING FORWARD AND ENJOY YOUR SUCCESS

Like any project, modernizing an existing system is going to hit some potholes. Don’t let the challenges discourage you; change is possible. You just have to be willing to continually push for the best user experience. Trust your vision, and you’re sure to succeed.

Secrets to Ski Action Photography from the Slopes


Creative Cloud

We took to the slopes to find out more behind Adobe Stock Contributor Roberto Caucino’s energetic and action-packed ski photography to find out how he captured it. Read on to go behind the scenes on one of Caucino’s ski shoots.

Skier performs a high speed turn on a ski slope. From the ski tip point of view. Sunny winter day. Concepts: vacation, speed, fun.

IMAGE: ADOBE STOCK

I always had two passions: alpine skiing and photography. As a boy, I won some ski races in the Italian Alps, but I soon realized that I was not good enough to compete internationally. So I dedicated myself to photography, especially the magnificent mountain scenery and its fantastic winter sports. But I never forgot the excitement you feel when you get down fast on a light blanket of snow; it’s like magic. I wanted to freeze in a photograph this mood, photographing the skier more realistically, from skis. It’s a difficult task. In the past it was quite impossible; a SLR camera was too heavy, and small compact cameras do not ensure a good quality. There was also the problem of how to fix the camera firmly to the ski without damaging the camera and the skis themselves. With the release of action-cams these problems have been solved.

Freerider skier moving down in snow powder; italian alps.

IMAGE: ADOBE STOCK

Well, the technique is quite simple. Take a GoPro and a suction cup, attach it to the tip of the ski and start taking a batch of photos with the intervalometer of the camera: you will get a nice amount of good self-portrait photos where you can choose the perfect one.

Skiing: male skier in powder snow. Italian Alps, Europe.

IMAGE: ADOBE STOCK

The composition of this image is clean and essential (the golden rule for all my photographic works), only a few simple lines (snow/sky, skier/skis), one impersonal subject (due to the ski goggles), flat primary colors (full saturated red and blue) and plain shining white snow. The original jpg file has been just slightly modified in Photoshop CC: fixed the exposition and contrast, deleted some objects in background and enlarged the copy-space on the right using the Content-Aware Fill.

IMAGE: ADOBE STOCK

IMAGE: ADOBE STOCK

If you want to try this, here are some tips:

  • The model should be a good skier: it’s important to be able to turn on the ski run at high speed.
  • Remember to connect the camera to the ski boot with a small safety rope: the suction cup may come off.
  • Set the intervalometer to shoot a photo every 0.5/1 sec.
  • Choose a flat, not too steep slope and go down fast with large smooth curves.
  • Be ready to work early in the morning as soon as the ski resorts open: the ski runs will be still empty and all for you.

In the same way, it’s possible to shoot video footage; here you can see an example from my Adobe Stock video portfolio: https://stock.adobe.com/uk/stock-photo/downhill-alpine-skiing-at-high-speed-on-powder-snow/59879011.

A big thanks to Roberto for sharing his story with us. You can find more of his beautiful images in his Adobe Stock portfolio.

7 UX Design Trends to Watch Out For in 2016

Creative Cloud

This was originally published on Website Magazine

UX design took center stage in 2015. Innovations like wearable technology and virtual reality drove designers into new realms, opening up doors that were previously not possible and in many cases not even imaginable.

The narrative on the human experience and how we interact with technology, interfaces and brands shifted further. People began to expect experiences that felt more personal and authentic, and they wanted designs to be so good that no matter the intended objective, the transaction was seamless.

So where does it go from here? We caught up with several UX experts to ask them about their predictions on where UX design is heading in 2016.

Here’s what they said:

TREND # 1: UX Design Moves Off The Screen

“Digital is moving from something we use inside of screens and devices to something that lives in the everyday objects around us, and the places we move through. User experiences will play out across a bigger, messier ecosystem. Designing for this new reality will require thinking more broadly, considering how people touch a service across many points. We saw the rise of mobile shatter desktop conventions—this will be an even bigger transformation. In 2016, UX designers will have the chance to establish the interactions that make up this new world of digital products and connected places.”

~Larry Johnson, Executive Strategy Director at Odopod

TREND # 2: Anticipatory Design to Become More Common

“Anticipatory Design is the ability to predictively design and serve up the best experience possible. We’re at a point now where ​we as designers can create and give users what they want before they even know they want it. This plays a huge role when users are having experiences that span context and medium. I believe we’ll see more of these anticipatory and ambient experiences in the coming future.”

~ Joe Johnston, VP, Experience Innovation at Universal Mind

TREND # 3: Responsive Design Expands to Include Reactions to User Behavior

“In the coming year and beyond, I’m anticipating a shift in what we think of when we say responsive design. That paradigm still largely refers to a site adapting to width and size with media queries, but I hope to see (and attempt) some leaps in how user behavior will literally trigger or inform responsiveness. The Grid boasts the ability to adapt presentation to content with AI, and that sounds intriguing and awesome. But I’m thinking of intuition technology that “learns” a user based on their behavior on the site, the same way some apps do, and then immediately customizes itself using that information. Think A/B testing on speed. How a user is interacting with the content thus far, what they’ve clicked on and how quickly, where they’re hesitating, their scroll speed, and even what they hover over but choose *not* to click on will modify the site itself. It will constantly be responding to what it’s learned, essentially, and present different content or even change the structure altogether in an effort to engage that user longer.”

~Sarah Huny Young, Creative Director at SDCA

TREND # 4: The Development of Niche Specialties and Formal UX Design Education Programs

“UX is a vastly growing field, both in research and application. In 2016, we will start to see that growth fragment into subspecialties including but not limited to web, mobile, product development, virtual and physical environments. As the traditional “web” fades away, UX professionals will find themselves in niche situations and will gravitate towards unique and divergent design practices that are laser focused on a specific user context. User Experience Design will continue to take its place as the heart of modern business and commerce, and because of this, we will see a shift in the academic community from HCI and Interaction Design to more focused UX curriculums. As of now, most UX professionals did not go to school for their trade and I believe this year we’ll start to see an emergence of PhD programs in User Experience Design.”

~Ron Edelen, Partner + Chief Creative Director, Myjive

TREND # 5: An Increase in Voice Recognition and Gesture-Based Design

“2016 is going to be another exciting year for the progression of User Experience.  UX will progress not only visually but voice recognition technology will also start to emerge as a more accessible input.  Visually with minimal design staying put, designers will continue to explore depth and layer for differentiation.  As touch becomes more standard, we will continue to see not only a rise in the use of gestures, but also consistency in gestures across apps, devices and platforms.”

~Dave Benton, Founder/Creative Director at Metajive

TREND # 6: UX Designers and Entire Organizations Align

“I hope to see a greater focus on getting entire organizations to be more user-focused, and getting everyone aligned on doing the right thing for the user. User Experience is not the sole responsibility of designers, but rather of everyone responsible for building and shipping quality products. Until we gain this alignment across all of our organizations, we cannot effectively evolve the practice of User Experience Design.”

~Catriona Cornett, Director of Product Design at SalesforceIQ

Trend # 7: Designing for the Real World

As customers interact with applications at a time, location, and device of their choosing, it will become increasingly important to incorporate real-world context. Designing in the abstract will only result in the learning happening later, when the application is available to customers, at which point it can be costly and disruptive to make adjustments.

Design tools can play an important role here in a few ways: helping bring in real-world data into the visual and interaction design phases; providing device-specific design-time previews; or enabling simulation of on-device inputs such as user location, so that the designer can get ever-closer to reality without ever leaving their design tool of choice.

~Andrew Shorten, Director of Product Management at Adobe

Where do you think UX Design is heading? Let us know in the comments below.