For Episode 53 of the Cherryleaf Podcast, Zoe Rose talks to us about User Experience.
How are you?
Yeah fine thank you a lot colder than you I suspect
So I keep seeing the news reports about the heat in Australia
it’s pretty hot
It’s toned down a little bit at the moment where I am I’m in Canberra
My best friend is in Adelaide and it was 45 degrees there today
So the way I usually start these is to ask people to introduce themselves say who they are and what they do
Right, my name is Zoe Rose and I am a user experience designer.
And you’re based in Canberra in Australia
Yep Canberra Australia ten beautiful years in the UK before that and we are now here in the great southern hemisphere
You are originally Australian, so it’s back to your roots I believe
Yes pretty much. So I grew up in Canberra when we came back from the UK we actually came back to Melbourne which is a bustling thriving metropolis and promptly realised that we are not really bustling thriving metropolis people so we came back
So your work in the UK and in Australia has been primarily around user experience and I thought that would be a good topic to have a conversation about. It always makes sense to start from scratch with asking questions such as what is user experience?
Well I can tell you I answer the question when people ask me what do I do right
I say I’m a designer
I don’t do fonts
I don’t do colours and I don’t do pictures
And if they think that sounds boring and do not ask another question then I leave it be.
Thus trying to deliver a good experience to my interlocutor my user
So the core of user experience is identifying what people need to do in a given environment how they can best do it and whether the way that you think is the best way to do it is actually the way that makes sense to them
So we do all the aspects of design that sit around the parts that aren’t particularly visual
An experienced designer will probably under ideal circumstances spend about half their time doing research
So first we research what is this problem is it a problem with solving is there something useful we can do here and then we spent a lot of time coming up with solutions and then we come up with whether or not those solutions actually do solve the problem in that the very end we research again say okay we’ve come up with a solution, we build this website we’ve got this prototype, we think that something that works, we put in front of real human beings and see what they do.
So you say you identify problems. what are the problems that exist that UX solves?
So this is an area that gets kind of nebulous kind of fast, because the answer depending on who you ask will go between problems that people can solve using websites through to literally everything in the whole world
So there’s a lot of spread now
UX at the moment is really very much in a state of flux.
It is not a discipline with firm boundaries the way that being a plumber or being an electrician or in fact being a technical author it would be.
So we emerged as a sub-discipline from the early discipline that was just generally called web design which was a bit visual it was a bit marketing it was a bit usability
It was all things to all people and you makes kind of bubbled out of that
And what’s happening now is people are looking at us and going well you know what this feels of user experience design actually so big and so carry in and of itself that it promptly needs breaking up again
So we have people now who will identify themselves as being part of sub-disciplines like interaction design.
User research is a significant and fast growing sub discipline
Probably the fastest growing we have people who identify as content designers which is very close to technical authoring and completely separate part of the conversation
We have the emerging field of service design
Now nobody’s sure yet whether the service design is part of UX or UX is part of the service design so it’s all still very much a bubbling pot
It probably might make sense to clarify what is meant by service design
Well it’s an emerging field with emerging interpretations as to where its meaning will ultimately land
I tend to think that the division is emerging that UX is really more of a screen and interaction with screen based discipline with service design can happen in any context
So for example if you imagine somebody trying to work out wayfinding and signage in a hospital that’s part of the service of delivering health care via the hospital
So that might be part of service design.
And then that’s the registering to book an appointment.
That would be UX if it was through the website. It would probably be UX if it was calling up on the phone and being put through to someone who’d help you the first time, it could easily fall in service design
So when I say the edges are sticky, they have, they’re very sticky
And what are the sort of typical benefits people get from considering UX and going through a process of looking at the user experience?
That question will always be contingent on the business or organizational goals
So the only function that UX designers really have is to make things better
the users do tell me what that is is going to be connected to but not necessarily restricted by business goals
So one of the things that we often do is assist businesses in identifying where the problem they really have is and what the source of the thing is
So it would be very easy for a business to walk up to UX designer and say we have a problem with our website and we need to integrate social media feeds, can you help us put social media feeds somewhere nice and on our website where people will use them.
Now that’s a solution
It might be that when we go through that research process that ideally makes up 50% of your time
We might determine that actually the problem is not like a lack of social media feeds
It’s that the company is just perceived as being unresponsive you know, and if you had the chat functionality built into the website or even if you had like you know a backup person to pick up the phone, that could do the job faster and better
Hmm so they might be thinking that they’re solving one problem and actually there’s this different problem that actually needs to be solved or a more fundamental problem
Well ideally in UX we talk a lot about solving the right problem
It’s been 50% of the job and solving the problem right as being the other 50% of the job so if I gave you a perfect solution to a problem that wasn’t actually a big deal for your business that’s not advantaging you
It’s that classic thing of people going in saying I want penicillin when actually a doctor’s role is to diagnose before they prescribe
And I find out what it is that you need and also to verify that what is given will solve that problem
So is this only for central government and big businesses?
I think over the last 10 years or so I don’t think I’ve realistically seen a business that either hasn’t been trying to integrate us or that doesn’t have areas that could be improved by bringing a little bit of UX in
We are going through a phase that could be considered kind of a boom to things happening at once
One thing that it’s happening with UX is our field is expanding and expanding rapidly and attracting new practitioners, but the other thing that’s happening is that it’s breaking up and you have people describing themselves as interaction designers, animation designers, and service designers.
Very importantly all of those things coming out
Who needs a UX designer?
People who have interactions with people, who have problems, I think is the answer there
so there’s no restriction no natural limit on the people who might or might not benefit from having a UX designer around, because the practices skills and ways of working of UX are not connected to a specific industry business or organizational practice
They can be applied in almost any context
They won’t necessarily be appropriate for exactly the situation you’re in.
My neighbour is a builder
I’m not sure that he would have much use for me even though he does solve problems for clients on a daily basis, but we do tend to pop up anywhere that things aren’t going very well for your client.
Is it the case with some worker here that the need for the user experience is partly affected by how many people are using the thing, how important it is for them to do the thing, and how complex it is to actually achieve that goal, or is it more complex than that? Is there more considerations as to whether you need or don’t need somebody to come in and fix your user experience?
To be honest I think it’s fair to say that the more complex process that a user has to go through is, and the more users there are, the more use a UX will be I think that’s a fair statement
If I was a nice boutique agent who sold details and I had a very good standing relationship with an existing customer base, you all have my phone number, perhaps they would not be so useful for me if
On the other hand, I was trying to run a retail retailing wholesaler with a very diffuse customer base who might be operating in different cultural contexts, who might be operating with different language systems, a different visual vocabulary which is something that impacts on websites that cater to more than one culture, surprisingly, often at that stage yes.
So part of our job is to find something that will work successfully for the largest number of people to complete the task they set out to achieve and successfully.
If you’re dealing with very small numbers that you know well, doesn’t apply to you so much.
If on the other hand you’re an energy company for example, and you’re trying to work out how people bring their electricity bills online, you really need to be confident that somebody can do that whether they have a high or low level of literacy, whether they have English as their second or third language, whether they have a high level of aptitude with using technology or not, and if they have any impairments that would get in the way of them using a purely visual or purely mouse based interface.
We call that last one okay don’t it with disabilities, we call that accessibility, or my preferred term is Universal Design, which just means exactly what it sounds like that it works universally.
There’s also another factor in what you said there is from a company perspective, it’s helping them scale their solution and connect it with, that grow their company and implement more mature processes
So that’s not relying throwing people at something or relying on individuals, but having robust systems that provide the services that people need without human intervention.
Yes there are different cost associations with different means of contacting businesses.
To use one example now if I remember correctly there was some research done at the outset of Gov.uk where they compared the different costs of somebody going to a government, shopfronts is what I would call it in Australia, so an office with a desk, where you can say I have this problem with my parking fine, versus doing the same thing over the phone versus finding the information online and completing it online.
And the cost of rentals were astronomical. I do not trust myself to remember the numbers, but it’s many many times more expensive to go to a shopfront, many, many, many, times more expensive to call up on the phone, and not very expensive to do it online.
Now here’s the catch though
If the online service does not work, the user will call on the phone, or go to the shopfront, so it is not enough to say online is cheaper.
Online is only cheaper if online works.
If online does not work, online is significantly more expensive, and that’s where the UX has come in.
It has to be the line of least resistance for the end user doesn’t it.
We are quite confident in saying that energy supply, we’ve seen numbers,
If somebody wants to do UX as it were can anyone do it what skills are needed?
I would say the answer that question does not depend on your work history or stage of life
It would depend I think on perhaps some of your aptitudes, but those are very loosely connected
What we have seen to be successful.
So the great advantage of UX is that we will basically take anybody one of the most skilled genius that I’ve worked with in the last few years started life as an industrial glassblower
I had a very talented student in a UX course I taught who come out of life as a professional DJ and warehouse manager
Really the door is more open than it is in a lot of professional disciplines
There’s a catch to this and the catch is twofold
The first part of the catch is that there’s no clear route in we do not currently have any reliable forms of accreditation do not currently have any robust training or even apprenticeship programs that I think would be really very good for us
So that’s one part of the flip side easy route in
And the second part of the flipside is that there’s a lot of room for people to just change their LinkedIn profile so it says UX and see what happens
Yes well we are not unencumbered with chancers
But the thing about reputation is reputation does not scale
So we are no longer able to say oh yeah Suniel I know that guy he’s good
Suniel could be anybody these days
It’s a bit of a gap in our processes for deciding who is and is not competent in the field what we that has coincided almost perfectly with a great deficit in our clients being able to determine whether the work we’ve handed in is at the standard that they expected it to be when they hired us or not so
There is bad work being done
I wish there wasn’t it’s not a problem which has been solved yet but given that UX is by definition a profession that solves problems
I certainly hope we’ll be able sorted out soon
I think part of the problem is it is multifaceted it covers a lot of different things and it can be quite hard to scope it down to a course you’ve written some articles on medium about the professionalization and whether there should be restrictions on who can and can’t call themselves a certain job titles
What do you think is the direction that the profession will go to solve this problem?
Historically, every profession that calls itself a profession has gone through a fairly similar process
Now in Australia we use a fairly specific definition of the word professional and it’s a definition which boils down to do you work in air conditioning.
So in our culture we regard anyone who works in an office as being a professional
Anyone who will flap doors as being trade
You know it’s not a particularly useful definition right
The original definition of professional was someone who professed something what were they professing
It’s a set of value statements and commitments to areas of practice the idea of ethics and adherence to ethics is used to being, and my mind should be the definitional criteria for profession, doctor way they were through any harm and patents say they won’t afford their clients.
Any given profession, the professional has an ability that people who are in that profession don’t have which is the ability to harm the clients.
Yes some ways that are not this card and permits, as well as a trade so this is what yeah so is there such a thing as plumbing ethics.
It’s actually a really interesting question, and the electrician, you have to be qualified electrician to do work because of the safety aspect, and that division means I think that the historical division between a professional trade is is a lot less pertinent than ever used to be, because their accreditations on website
Well at the moment there’s no accreditation for my line of work at all
I have less qualifications than a hairdresser by a lot
I actually have less qualifications than people who do holistic medicine for that matter.
There’s a lot of people that have fewer qualifications the process that professions have historically gone through to be accepted as professions has usually involves a period of crisis and really significant distrust that the profession has only been able to get out of by implementing a code of practice and compelling its users to adhere to it
So before lawyers became a profession there was appearing those extreme distrust of lawyers and you’ll be aware that culturally that distrust still exists
So let me put the counter argument to you. This is true for technical authors that the safety element isn’t there. Somebody does a bad website or bad user documentation for software. That’s a completely different matter to aircraft and the like. Nobody dies. As such the way that it’s been tackled within the world of technical communication is that it moves more towards saying the deliverables have to conform to a standard. So you have to conform to the CE Mark. It has to conform to this law or that law. So anybody can still do it, but they have to do it to a particular standard. How would you respond to that argument?
I think there’s a lot of merit to that, but I’m not sure we’re going to end up with a one to one equivalency, because UX goes broader and the problems being sold off in more diverse.
There’s a designer called Mike Montero, who I’m quite fond of, who has tracked this historically, and something he’s fond of saying is that even the mid-1990s, if he did his job badly then you can lose your benefits, not get your cancer screening.
So it the scale of the impact that UX can have on a human life has its increased exponentially, and I do see an equivalent see there with technical documentation how technical documentation has ramifications that go far beyond what they would have perhaps even 10 years ago.
You would know what better than I there are ISO standards for UX.
They don’t update frequently, and as we see different aspects of UX practice being broken off into emerging disciplines we lose the ability to even get to that level of adherence if you had two people looking at the same piece of UX work you could easily get two interpretations as to whether the standard level
We have the same issue actually with WCAG, which is the world wide web consortium accessibility guidelines, currently at 2.1, for universal design for people with impaired ability use
That’s going through the same thing as well
It’s actually quite ambiguous, so part of me would love it if this was an area where standards alone could certify the absolute validity of the workm but what we’re seeing and have seen with those standards is that they’re good guides but it’s quite difficult to determine whether they have unambiguously being met or not
Would it be fair to say that the biggest impact has been disability discrimination legislation?
Oh boy so there are several ways to approach that the accessibility guidelines were written in such a way that they were untethered from the capacities of HTML and CSS so the first version came out in 1999 and it was very heavily tailored to HTML and it became very very quickly obvious that that was hampering people and HTML was moving faster than the guidelines were
So they decoupled it in in the next iteration and that has been the thing that led to ambiguities I think that the WCAG guidelines at this stage have been interpreted by the professional community more as a hindrance than an opportunity for innovation and that really causes me quite a lot of well it makes me angry is is what I’m trying to say here because what we’ve thoroughly found in design is that when you design something for the hardest use case somebody who perhaps can’t see can’t use their hands properly has to blow into a stick to move a cursor or who might have dyslexia dyscalculia which is all the fun of dyslexia but for numbers
If you solve for problems like that what we find is you get a better solution for literally everybody.
Our UX is at the moment have a very nasty habit of regarding the WCAG standards as being a checklist and something you have to check off, which you can’t do because they’re very ambiguous to start with
And they’re designed explicitly to be ambiguous and in doing so miss out on the fabulous opportunity to create things that work significantly better for everyone.
A lot of the time if you go to meetup where somebody is giving a talk about accessibility it will follow a very standard pattern up into a lot of them first off somebody tells you that there’s no excuse not to have accessibility I mean quite a chiding way and then they talk about colour contrast ratios for the rest of the talk
Colour contrast ratios are including WCAG for supporting people with a limited vision
They are one out of a couple of hundred provisions but most of us in UX start and stop there
The irony of it is high levels of colour contrast are actually really bad for anyone who has a neurological disorder that lowers their ability to process text-based information which if you think of defects yeah that’s about 6 percent of the population right there
So I don’t think we’ve done well enough on this yet by a long shot
We’re still learning what needs to be best practice, which makes it hard to define what best practice should be
If somebody wants to do this, how do people, what is the best route for people to get the skills, to do UX design?
well it’s an interesting question because I think the answer I would give to this today he’s probably different from the answer I’d give even three years ago and definitely different from the answer I’d give 10 years ago
For my own part I fell into it by accident
The first time I drew wireframes I quite literally did not know they were called wireframe well no that’s that that’s not a joke that’s literally true
I had being put in a position where I was supposed to be sorting out the back end of a product that didn’t exist
I figured somebody had to make it exist no one else was there so I did it.
It was some an unusual situation to be completely honest
I don’t think that would happen to anyone now and that’s probably all to the good because I should not have been doing those wireframes with the level of skill I had at the time
There are more and less formal rooted I have recently finished a stint of teaching two courses at General Assembly which offers intensive UX courses they are very intense they go for three months and nobody sleeps
Something that I am really, really interested in is that there are a very very large number of people in organizations large and small corporate government medium business who are effectively doing about 50% of the designers job and have never ever been told that the work they’re doing is design
So those are the people who I would love for us to find build and nurture
There is a huge amount of design work being done around the world by people who have never thought of themselves as designers, would never think of themselves as designers, and unfortunately don’t have access to designers in their organizations who are willing to sit down have a cup of coffee with them, and say, hey did you know what you’ve just been doing is user research? Did you know you’ve just been doing usability research?
You’ve made up like 50% of a really good usability testing service other people of being here
First let me give you some resources
So I have to suspect that quite a few of those would be in the technical authoring community
I hope that routes organ for people to come to understand the skills that they have developed and can continue developing, but I do not know what those roots will be yet got question here handbrake turn
In some ways back to what we’re talking about earlier, and that is how do you distinguish between UX, and content and what’s the a relationship between the two of them? Are they’re coming together?
We are seeing an emerging discipline in UX right now, which is called content design this is one of the emerging fields under that UX banner one of the luminaries in that field is a woman called Sarah Richards who in the UK
You were lucky to have living right there with you and she has really been the pioneer of establishing content design as a discipline
She’s written a book it’s a very good book
I would recommend it that world of content is budding fast content is increasingly being seen as part of design, as a specialism in design and as a specialism that designers can promote themselves as having could a technical author to step in change their name and say I’m a Content Designer, hire me
Somebody who just finished their GCSE could say they were a Content Designer, hire me, absolutely nothing preventing that, because we have no accreditation.
I would say though that someone who is a technical author would be very well advised if they were thinking about moving into content design or assessing their skills, to discover whether they were content designers already and just haven’t been using the word, have a discussion with anyone you can find who is an established content designer and see whether it matches.
Because it is very likely to content design is already breaking into sub disciplines
We talk in UX a great deal about microcopy
So microcopy might be the difference between having a button labelled Go, Save, Complete, or Save and Complete.
I don’t know which one of those would be the best in a specific context
I don’t I would be and with my us hat on I would be conducting usability research see what happened if I put that in front of people and saw what they did
So microcopy is something where I think technical authors would probably enjoy themselves and find they had like a lot of aptitude and a lot of crossover skills
But I think they would struggle without some skills in doing research because often there isn’t the time to research the users there is time to research the products but often in the technical writing projects the author is the user that is the differentiating factor the purists in our industry
I’m not trying to say if it’s got any research it’s not us, and to be honest I’m inclined to agree with them so that’s an area of appreciation, but research skills are just that they are skills they are acquirable.
In terms of about you and contacting you getting access to articles or even engaging you what so answers to those questions
I’m easy to find on LinkedIn I have never in my life regretted making a new professional connection so
I’m always happy to talk to everybody and we have talked so much today about UX roots into UX identifying whether you might already be doing a lot of UX work that I would be something of a CAD and if I did not invite people to contact me if they have any questions and
Your website’s is zoero.se Are you available for work, will you be available for worker in the near future what’s the situation there?
A deeply ironic situation!
I have been a disability advocate for a long time and I have given conference presentations about disability and I have rated many of my colleagues about disability but I have not until two months ago being myself disabled well that’s changed
I’m currently recovering from a significant injury I can’t do much in the way of getting around so I am in fact currently mobility impaired and will be for a little while but I am available for bits and pieces of work where they don’t require me to leave the house because there’s 14 steps up my house it’s really very difficult so off-site worked available for that type of thing that’s good to know I am waiting for my physio to tell me it’s OK.
Well I hope you get better soon
I should say that’s well the interesting thing about impairments I can’t be said often enough is that anything that works for somebody who has an impairment will usually work better for someone without one and I think that it’s a challenge that pretty much everybody who deals with technology as part of their professional life can benefit from engaging with mmm
Well, that’s probably an appropriate ending to the conversation
It’s been a pleasure thank you
So just a few final things to say
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I think that’s it so until the next time thank you for listening.