Stepping Away from the Perth Accessibility Meetup

Jun
30
2013

shot of Coffee and a glass of water on a window sill

In April this year I stepped away from the Perth Accessibility Meetup group after having guided the group from it’s formation a few years ago.

Originally this group was a causal networking affair, allowing for web accessibility practitioners to meet and discuss all things involved with the inclusive and accessible design.

Now I feel I owe the community an explanation as to why I stepped down suddenly.

Getting to the Reasons

The Perth Accessibility Meetup wasn’t a difficult group to maintain, in it’s previous format, it was just a matter of promoting it a little, booking the venue and getting up early – okay this bit was hard.

In February and March I had just organized and run the first Perth Accessibility Camp.  Which, from feedback, seem to go very well, allowing a good deal of people to network with others who had the same issues.   Still it was tiring, and caused me a drop the ball on a few critical business opportunities.

Business wise I was finding that the demand for quality accessibility consulting was waning, despite a growing requirement from the market, but it wasn’t translating into sales.

As a primary breadwinner for my family this was not good.   The reasons why things were not working are numerous, most are better discussed over a beer, than here.

Frankly I didn’t have the time to focus on community volunteer work the group required to move forward.   This became very evident from the Accessibility Camp.

The main issue was also more one of basic business survival  was not being met, I was just too busy helping people with no return.

Time to Change

Also the group was generally stagnating, and not going anywhere, in fact the numbers were dropping.  I think the issue really was me.   So time for a change.

By sheer mistake, one morning I slept in and missed the month’s meetup completely, and you know what it felt good, like a burden had been lifted.

That said everything to me.  So I stepped away.

One thing I think the incoming team should be very aware of is rotating the presenters around.   Having one or two people presenting all the time can get very boring and a little self-promotional.

Leaving is Hard

You know I am sad about this, but I have to be a business realist, accessibility consultation wasn’t paying enough to be viable, without selling our house and moving into a cardboard box.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop waving the accessibility banner, yeah I’ll still be there if a client needs accessibility consulting.   It’s just I’m not going to be an active community component like I used to be.

I’ll leave the accessibility cause to my colleagues and inspirational community leaders such as Scott HollierRuth Ellison, Lisa Herrod, Derek Featherstone and Roger Hudson, they are just tireless in their commitment; when I grow up I want to have their energy.

Moving On

I guess I have also lost my faith in accessibility, particularly when locally in WA , we have a Government that are just paying lip service to WCAG 2 compliance at a senior management level.

For the immediate future I need to focus on Customer and User Experience consulting, as they do bring in money, and at least cover the basics like putting food on the table.

I maybe back; I have no idea when, only the future knows.

Thankyou people for indulging me, the ride was wonderful.

The Web was Build for Continuous Delivery

Apr
2
2013

Hundreds of cupcakes all the same from Edge of the Web 2011 conference

Interestingly Jared M. Spool waxed on recently about slowing down and changing the design process, from one large change to just hundreds of small testable alterations. Now this is nothing really that new.

In the early days of the web (1995 to 1997) I remember it was all about making small changes, validating them.

You know the drill make small changes, implement, test response, respond to test. These can be from changing a typeface, moving a heading, changing the location and size of a button.

Seeing what worked for your audience and what didn’t, sometimes you rolled back a change, other times we just tweaked the change a little to gather a greater improvement.

Advantages

Overall this staged approach to designing and presenting a web site allowed for a:

  • Very rapid response to influencing forces
  • Defined focus on the changes being made
  • Ease of validation of changes
  • Ease of customer acceptance

A change happened over weeks or even months not overnight. Most of the time users never noticed.

Somewhere along the way we lost sight of this and started making websites like print brochures and software releases.

Guess we applied the wrong processes that we knew to the (then) new medium.

Still need to Plan

Only issue with the continuous approach is that you have to plan and prioritize, and continuously ensure you plan is still valid with your customers. Without this you’ll just be rolling out outdated or ill timed aspect to your product.

Remember all this is pointless if you don’t have your customers involved in the process.

Of course if you wanted to be really trendy then it’s just all about Agile based Continuous Delivery. Which really isn’t anything new in the web industry.

But in reality it’s all just part of process in stopping the constant redesign cycle.

UI is not UX. Remember that!

Mar
27
2013

Barred Window - Old National Art Galley and Common Museum, Wellington NZ

It amazes me suddenly everyone is a UX designer, what next UX postal workers.

I suspect that most UX designers don’t really know what is involved with a real customer centric process.

When discussing User Experience with people that have only partly encountered the term, I unusually first clear up the  myth that User Experience (UX) is just the User Interface (UI).

Often they are surprised at the extent of UX Design and the degree of scientific rigor behind it.

Now it is good that the term UX is starting to mainstream and all sorts of people outside of the IT, marketing and communications industries are realizing its importance.

Still we need to remember why User Experience is not the User Interface:

  • User Experience is Wider in Scope.

    The User Experience covers a lot more than just the visual presentation layer.  It can be sound, information organization, behavioual response, environmental conditions, service presentation and so on.

  • User Interface is usually just Visual.

    The UI is just the visual design and the interface design. With maybe a little interaction design, but that is it.  It’s very easy to forget about the people aspect of this.

  • It’s more than Design Patterns.

    While design patterns help in the building of a UI. Understanding the behaviours around that pattern and the aspects of the micro interactions is important.

  • UI Rules are not critical.

    Often User Interfaces have rules or guidelines for use.  These are often seem as common solutions and are quoted in support of the UI solution.  This is a good starting point; however the UX context and customer behavior may take the final solution in a different direction.  More work that just applying the “rules” will be required.

The Stuff Before and After the UI

Around the development of any User Interface, ideally there should be a fair amount of UX techniques.

Be this from the initial problem verification, customer research and solution proposals, to the final iterative prototype development and validation.  As you can see there are a good deal of processes that can occur before the UI is even considered.

Process from problem validation to visual and interface design in an iterative loop

The UX process around the Interface Design

Sure usually a good UX professional can do the UI if required, however limiting their skill set to this alone would be a complete waste of a resource.

The External Lens View

We know we have a problem as UX design is invisible.

It’s not a thing you can point to and say – that is the UX design.  With UI design however, you can point and say – “see the sexy User Interface”.

From a external view point, outside of the industry, UX is this magical – almost snake oil like role, that is seen as a luxury item.

After all it doesn’t help in the delivery of the product or making people use it? Or does it?

It could be said that all UX people do is confirm issues, and direct others like developers and designers to the right solutions.   In reality does the role exist at all?

Ask most Project Managers, Team Coaches and Project Leads and they will tell you they aren’t really sure what UX people do. But they are sure that an existing team member can fill the role anyway.

Yes all this is all an education and justification issue, you would think after 10 years we would have nailed that one.

Muddying the Roles

There are a good number of Visual Designers and Front End Developers moving into roles as UX Designers, most by simply changing a position title.

I have no problem with this if a complete customer centric empathic UX Design, as detailed above, is being conducted.

However I have found time and time again this change is just a window dressing at best.

The reality is the only empathy that is expressed is in the statement – “I’m a user, therefore I understand user experience”.  Only a marginal consideration is given to the issues of the customer at all.

This leaves people such as myself with a fair degree of UX consulting experience, in a bind.  As now I’m just seen as a UI designer.

Others in the UX industry, have become more specific in defining what they do, morphing into Interaction Designers, Human Behaviour Consultants, Customer Research Analysts or just Experience Consultants.

This doesn’t help anyone in the long term, as now outside the UX industry is watered down and truly a bit muddy.

Supporting Skills of UX Design

You know in a way maybe UX Design doesn’t really exist. It’s just a term afterall to group together all our skills used to produce balanced solution.

When you’re building for a good UX design, you don’t really go out and apply your skills in UX design. You tend to instead use on of the following supporting techniques to bolster up the UX design solution in context of the overall process; of which the User Interface is just a component.

User Experience Supported by interaction design, usability,behavioural design, user research, content strategy, visual design, info architecture and interface design

Proceses supporting User Experience

Whether you are a recruiter, an agency director or a project manager; remember there is a distinct difference between a UX and UI designer. If you advertise for a hybrid I’m going to expect to see some skills cross over not just front-end designer skills.

Ignoring Customer Comments and Feedback

Jan
8
2013

Post Office Box just waiting for old school communication

What do you do when you get feedback from a client or customer.

Do you file it away, never to see the light of day. Read and delete it. Dismiss it, or look for justification to defend the actions /proecess raised. Pretend it never arrived. Run and hide!

All of the above?

If you are like me, and everyone else, you will have found feedback somewhat painful at some point. Although I have learnt to detach myself and revile in any feedback, good or bad.

Feedback can be painful to the point that we just don’t really seek it out.  We even shy away from it, when it is given.

This is okay, it’s human nature, just our defensive ego doing its job, nothing really to be concerned about.

However we should be concerned if it’s a constant stream of denial of the issues raised.

As UX professionals we need to consider any feedback on its merits that it was given. We need to be constantly checking our motivations and actions especially in relation to comments and feedback from peers, clients and customers. We need to maintain a sense of objectivity.

Comment and Feedback Mining

This is especially true as a trend is approaching in the area of customer feedback and comments.

Previously this customer content was just considered to be an add on, maybe an annoyance, just a supplementary commentary. Something that would not be seriously regarded.

It was a just mirror game of make-believe letting the audience believe that by letting them comment that they were engaging and making a difference.

Yeah we all played this game of engagement and social media to push people to the clients products.

Overtime the enlightened organisations have listened and acting on these comments and customer feedback. Improving their services, products or at least their customer research.  Based firmly on this level of real customer engagement.

They have effectively mined and used this free resource, of customer information, as any other analytical research tool for the benefit of their business.

When there are large quantities of this type of information trends can be seen in the feedback, this content can then be analysed, evaluated and given due consideration.

Empathise!

Remember people are going out of their way, on social media, blogs or the like, to comment on your service or product, it’s a simple matter to consider these comments even if you don’t agree with them.

Try and put yourself in the customers place. Empathise with them over their situation and the issues they are encountering. Customers may have taken a considerable time to gather their feedback, type it up and send it to you – we need to start respecting that.

It’s a good idea to also remember there is often a secondary motive behind all comments and feedback people submit.

I used to consider that this level of analysis was only viable for very large organisations with correspondence levels that requiring full time staff.

I was wrong, enquiries, feedback and comments can still be used to give effective insight into the issues, personality types and process of the customers, no matter what the volume.

So ask for feedback, comments and don’t ignore them – use them!

Generating a culture of responsiveness could provide your client with a competitive edge.