UX First, Web Standards and Accessibility Second


Building Construction and Crane

Web Standards and Web Accessibility aren’t that important. There I said it.

When normal people (non technical, non web industry) use a website, app or online service, they only consider their experience, they don’t for one minute consider how the site was constructed, if it follows standards, if it is responsive, if it is accessible to all people.

People are very self centred, you have to remember that.  They don’t care if the site is going to work for anyone else, just them, and them alone.

They just consider, “does this work for me!”

They just want to have a seamless good experience with no issues.   A site that works as they expected and from which they can find the information they want.  If they get this then they will be reasonably happy.

We are not the Customer

It is only us, the technical community that considers web standards and accessibility to be important.

For the customer on the website, as long as it works, they don’t care.  This is especially important to remember when developing web sites.  The technical aspects aren’t as important as the overall customer experience.

If any customer can use and get access to the content and functionality of a website then what is left to improve.   What aspect can customer  engage with that can be improved.  You will find all that is left is just the experience.   The experience is the differentiator.

It is this quality of the experience that is for the most part considered important.   Even if there are error messages, it doesn’t matter as long as the issues are quick and easy to resolve without  time wasting or frustration.

Now the experience doesn’t have to be perfect. Yeah that’s a kicker, it can even be bad.

The Low Experience Bar

Sadly, people using websites have become very tolerate of bad design and bad experiences.   The classic examples of this are often sites that have something that you covent. Like concert tickets.  These sites often get way with a good deal of dark patterns and bad UX.

People will put up with a complex registration process, ticket selection, booking process and then ticket ecommerce systems, designed by the Data Base Administrator;  just to get those tickets.

Customers grit their teeth and just get on with it. In some cases even they have come to expect this level of bad design, as the norm, and just the way it is.

The only reason they put up with this bad experience is for the end goal of the process.

People will even tell you after a bad experience, that it “wasn’t that bad, I’m used it it.” or they may even declare it to be a “good experience overall” – mainly because they achieved the end goal.

This degree of cognitive bias on the outcome must be remembered when surveying or interviewing people.

For the most part people are just glad the service is online and available.

Yes the bar is still set that low for exclusive items.  The experiences people expect is little more than a site being functional or just usable.

Sure great visual design is important, and this helps hold a person, but the functionality still needs to work.   If it doesn’t they just consider the site broken,  and as you know people then move on.

Raising the Bar

So next time you are designing for your customers, let’s try and raise that bar a little.

Get the website functional, visually appealing, designed for a good experience (that includes good content), not an average one. And then you can consider web standards and accessibility.

Of course I know a lot of you will do the web standards and accessibility stuff without thinking about it anyway as part of your process.   And power to you, but designing for a good UX comes first.

Heretical Ideas – Abandon all the Pretty Reports


Storyboard Production

A few years ago I proposed that we stop wireframing everything and that we do some sketches and then prototype.

I’m really glad the message has got out and people are considering that wireframing is just a transition to the prototyping.

However there is still a good number of issues when designing to support a good user experience that we need to get rid of.

We have become oppsessed with the artefact – the final report or diagram.  A good deal of resources is just wasted producing them.

Well I can tell you they are not important. We need to take a lean approach and stop producing them.

It’s not about the Results

These 400 page reports and pretty diagrams are the issue.

We have created a world where we have an excess of reporting. Where is it now expected that management will front up to the executive with an expensive looking report to show how “busy” they have been.

Partly this issue has it’s roots in our outdated concept that “more hours worked” = “greater productivity”. We now know that to be complete crap.

On most projects the UX is never really considered ideally, at some point there is always a compromise taken. This is usually due to lack of resources (budget).

Now what would happen if you could find, 10%, 15% or maybe 25% more budget for supporting a good UX, clearly you could use that extra budget on those techniques and methods you discounted to confirm you design or research.

What if doing all those pretty reports was taking 25% of the budget. Would you question why they are being done.

Consulting Reports

Now I get that from a consulting basis the big report or the pretty diagram is usually an end of line item, a solid deliverable for the client.   Something you get paid for. I live and work in this UX consulting world, so I get that.

I have to produced these reports or diagrams that very pretty and extremely over detailed, just so the client felt like they got their moneys worth. When in reality the money was spend on knowledge transfer previously with their team.

Also the reality of the matter is only the summary of the report is ever read.    

Maybe as consultants we need to be looking at producing a MVP in the form of the usual pretty report.

So why bother with the Artefacts of the Process?

If we took all the extra effort and redirected it back into the project surely that woud be of benefit.

The entire point of the final products, is really just to focus the team on the information or design and start a conversation or feedback.  The conversation can be from customers, stakeholders, product owners or colleagues.

Now if you are working solidly on a project, then you will be constantly sketching, researching or the like. 

Producing low-fi items, that can help serve as daily discussion points.  As opposed to the traditional “over the wall approach” when we hid ourselves away to produce wonderful shelfware reports.

It’s just a matter of the way we are working.

What if we just used those sketches, the workshop posters,  that review video of the testing session.  What if we kept the reporting artefacts to the core of the information with maybe a summary of findings.

It’s About the Discussion

It’s this discussion that is the important aspect, the information that comes out of this discussion: the requirements, issues, directions, possible solutions – these are the important aspects. Not the pretty outdated management reports.

To often it’s these comments or discussion points that are forgotten or put aside with our headlong obsession to produce 400 page reports on the matter.

We need to change the focus.

What better place than at the source.   Stop producing the shelfware and focus on greater productivity for the project overall. Get the team collaborating effectively.

Keep the outputs lean.  Generate the discussion and move the project forward.

Sustaining the Jam

Sketchnote of Perth Sustainability Jam 2012
Sketchnote of the Jam for 2012

Over the last weekend, 2-4 November, I participated in the first ever Perth Sustainability Jam, as part of the Global Sustainability Jam, 48 hours, 59 locations saving the world.

The Jam was a fun, if not an exhausting experience.  

It showed clearly how to bring together a room of strangers, from different backgrounds, and forge them into a cohesive quality team producing outstanding results in less than 21 hours (working time) out of the 48 hours allocated.

One of the refreshing attitudes was not discussing how to do the processes and techniques around the jam, but to just get on and do them, learning on the fly in most cases.

The reason I signed up for the jam was to practice a series of tools and techniques with people I don’t normally work with and maybe learn a few more.

I must admit that by Friday afternoon I was a little sceptical of the entire affair; the call to have the usual relaxing evening and a refreshing climb on Saturday was very strong.  

However I went along anyway, if for nothing else than to meet new people from completely different industries.

I’m glad I did.

Theme – Heartbeats

The theme for the 2012 Jam was ((Heart)) Beats.  Which lead to some very interesting issues around which projects where designed and possible solutions produced.  

The outcome of the Perth Jam was four distinct projects: reducing package waste, reducing consumerism, promoting communal food production, and a way to make work environments energy neutral.

Designing without a Net

One of the liberating aspect of the weekend was the rapid development time for the solutiuons using a very much Lean and Agile approach to the interactive prototype of the solution.

Plus the bonus of not having to use a computer, sometimes you just need a break from the digital!

However all weekend I had lot of niggling questions about various aspects of our solution.  Fine details, some of which could trip the project up, especially in various contextual reference points.  

The lack of initialising research, was for me personally and professionally a little off putting.   However for most groups at the Jam this lack of research was supplemented by the expertise of the local sustainability people at the Jam.

Lessons Learnt

The outcome of the Jam was just amazing.

It was rewarding to see how far the solutions had come in such a short time with just a focused collaborative effort.  

Although for me personally  due to my UX  research and design background  I did find the Jam a little like another day at the office.  In reality I didn’t really learn any new techniques.

Thinking back on the weekend there is one thing that did really become apparent – some aspects of UX and UCD are just broken time silos. More on this to come.

I also had a wonderful opportunity to work and collaborate with some very talented people.  Some of which I would gladly work with again anytime.

The next Perth Sustainability Jam will be in March 2013 – this time a Global Service Jam (thanks Adam), I recommend people get along to this unique non-digital creative experience.

Customer Disconnection?


arped male face Street Art in Northbridge

As a UX Consultant I see a great deal of disconnection between providers and customers all the time.

In large respected organisations I have often seen support people, call center staff, BAs, developers,  managers, directors, and the like laughing and making fun of an email from a customer.   With no regard for the customer, or their viewpoint, or the issue they are having.   The customer in their eyes is just an idiot, to be discarded.

This has to stop.   After all aren’t ‘customers’ still people just like you and me, even aren’t we customers.

It seems as if everyone in  service provision has been taking customer service lessons from Basil Faulty (from the TV program Faulty Towers).

Now in the area of User Experience there has to be a degree of real empathy and understanding of the customer.  This is critical culturally for improvement of the user experience from an overall service to product delivery.

The attitude against the customer is a typical very common defensive response,  we are wired you see to respond negatively against others that aren’t in our immediate group (like a customer) especially if they upset the status quo.

Be Honest, Do You Have a Disconnection

Too often there is a distinct denial that this behaviour exists at all, or the assurance that it’s only an isolated incidence.  More often than not I find that this behaviour has become sadly entrenched in the cultural of the provider.

Now we really need to be honest with ourselves,  what do you feel and what do your collegues do when you get correspondance from a customer.

Do you sit around and laugh at the comment, considering the person pointing out the issues as being a bit of a “dickhead”?

Ask yourself this:

  • When you get an email or phone call complaining or pointing out an issue – what is your first emotional response?   What is the response of the team?
  • When you get a comment or feedback from social media  – again what is your response?  And what is the team’s response?

Too often we have an initial negative feeling ranging from “Damn interruptions” to “Stupid users”.

This represents an undercurrent in the emotional detachment from the person you are responding to.

After all they aren’t really there, they  are somewhat displaced,  just a name on paper, just a email address, just a bodiless voice, or a mindless post or tweet.

The complete abstraction of the subject does tend to happen regularly within government and larger organisations.

There is hope, however, I have seen that it’s a little harder to build this degree of detachment when the interaction is face to face.  But it can still happen.

Why is this Occurring

There are a number of behaviours at play here.

All of which are centered around your self or group survival instinct.  Behaviours that we should keep in check in our modern peaceful society.

They’re not bad behaviours, just you need to be aware of them and when you reverting to use them.

Survival Mode

There is a tendency to want to reduce the more intense emotions in our lives such as anxiety, fear or disgust.

This comes from our internal responses in these emotions.  In the longer term, we need to help reduce the overall adrenaline feedback response and reduce stress.  To maintain a level field of homeostasis.  As we know a little stress is good a lot of stress is bad.

If customer feedback or contact is generally  spikes a degree of anxiety, be that from fear of failure,  of not having a solution, or having to enforce a policy you don’t like,  then we will naturally supplant this with a degree of disconnection.  It just makes things easier if you suppress the association with the other person; less stress.

Now put that in the pressure cooker environment of a support or call center, were a person will be bombarded day in day out with negative issues or even abuse, and you can understand why people become emotional detached.

Of course to promote this survival behaviour, your mind places itself in a feedback loop that feeds on the degree of disconnection, after all you can’t possibility be wrong, can you. Welcome to a little cognitive dissonance to help it all along too.

Tribalism and Dehumanisation

The survival of the individual works better when we are in groups, be that your team, the division, industry or social group, we like to be identified, for the most part, to belonging to something.  Even if it’s just behind closed doors.

Hence we tend to categorise people into labeled attribute groups such as user, customer, junior, IT, marketing, them, us, black, white, asian, bogan, hipster, geek and so on.  Yes the categorisation helps us deal with  people, sometimes by applying stereotypes.

Now if you consider a group response to a threat upon the general homeostasis of the group, then you are going to  want to make it easier for people to justify their actions against the people in the other group.

This behaviour starts out as phrases like – “they are just users,”  “it’s just a customer,” then it starts to shift to “another complaint email,” “oh, a complaint ticket”.  Notice that the terms over time become  dehumanised, less about the person, till the point they are just an object in the process.

You see its very easy to dismiss and not think about the consequences of object.   And all along the group tribal dehumanisation of the customer helps support it.

Always Guilty Until Solid Proof

Now if you layer the disconnection and avoidance of the emotion state with the dehumanisation and add a delusional tendency to consider a pessimistic view of a situation, then this completes the mix.

We are predisposed to tend to see people in a negative light with only just the hint of evidence.  Untruths like – “they mustn’t have  followed procedure”, “they’re trying to rip the company off”, or “they’re just plain stupid”; all can be  firmed up as reality and reenforced by the group culture.

Reality maybe completely different, but until we are willing (or force) ourselves to really listen or see solid evidence, our minds will enforce that the customer is basically at idiot.

Why Should You Care

First off you need to consider the customers time and effort. Unless the customer has a major issue they want fixed, then  any correspondance they have given you is a blessing.

They have in fact invested time and money in your organisational brand, in your service.  All this to tell you of a problem, from a tweet, to a feedback from submission – they are trying to help your organisation.

Also consider, for a moment, the low percentage of people that do report issues, then, frankly I wouldn’t be promoting any culture of  disconnection at all.

If you really are looking at providing a customer (user) focused environment then you need to  understand and empathise with the customers issues, and problems.  Sometimes a little understanding of the overall bigger problem can help reframe an issue.

Of course your behaviour responses can just as easily be flipped when you are on the receiving end of bad customer service a few times.   For the most part you need to remember these feeling of frustration, avoidance and false lip service.  This is the initial gateway to building real customer empathy.

So let’s be a little more honest, we all have these moments of disconnection.   The important thing is what are you going to do about it.  How are you going to approach gaining an empathetic understanding of your customers.