Product Design to UX

Physical products and UX at first seem worlds apart, so how could a tangible object have similarities with an online product? It seems ridiculous that these fields should have anything in common. However, the design process from start to finish in fact follows a very similar path. From experiencing both fields it is evident that all products must go through a long, complicated process to achieve the end result, whether that be a UX friendly display or tangible product.

product-design-ux-3
Product Design framework applied to UX Design

Product Designers are problem solvers; there are very few successful products that do not solve a problem the public face. The phrase: “Even if there is a gap in the market, it doesn’t mean there is a market in the gap” is constantly used by my lecturers as a reminder, you may have an innovative new idea but it does not mean that people will buy it or like it. My degree of Product Design with Professional Experience emphasises physical products and the different stages of launching a product onto market.

product-design-ux1
Similar Paths: UX and Product Design

We spend the year in 4 quarters:

· Research

· Ideation

· Development

· Launch

Put simply,

· We research the target market
· We come up with a range of ideas for the target market
· We then take forward one idea to develop
· Finally we launch this product onto the market

This framework however can absolutely be applied to UX design. The research phase is in fact very similar. Tailored research is vital in both; it must be bespoke for the target audience or intended user. This is perhaps the most important phase for UX, gathering user needs is essential to how something is developed. During my degree the research phase for product design included interviews and surveys displayed in a detailed report including personas, literature reviews and stats. Breaking down the problems people face everyday and whether there is a gap in the market for a product to aid the problem.

product-design-ux2
Some phases  that Product Design and UX Design follow are similar

In UX you must find out what is instinctual to the users, it is incredibly important to understand the user more than anything else. A researcher will do this by very similar methods of collecting quantitative and qualitative data. For both fields this is a vital stage, if overlooked you will miss what the public want or need therefore making the end products useless.

The Ideation and development phase are more specifically defined. This is where in Product Design we will sketch and model solutions selecting the most effective way the user reaches their goal; this phase is called Ideation. Being as creative as possible we invent new ideas and then begin a selection process. We then take the best idea to the Development phase and this is where the technical, science based side comes in using CAD technologically moving our product forward. Using manufacturing information, prototypes, reverse engineering and technical drawing to work out the details involved with product design. The ideation and development phases in UX although different would still follow a similar criteria, using idea generation, prototyping, testing and then ultimately product development.

Finally the Launch phase allows us to brand our product, learning about the legalities involved with this. A UX designer would go through an equivalent processes to ensure the the product is thoroughly tested and completely ready for launch.

These 4 phases can cover all steps involved in launching any kind of product, however these phases do not have to divide into separate deadlines as they would on a degree course. I believe it is important to have them intertwined and constantly active within the process. As UX has taught me; research should be constant, testing completed work and helping it progress further. If small problems are ignored early on they will progress into much larger problems later down the road. I aspire to learn more about UX in the months to come and to gain a larger range of skills involved with UX research and design.

 

My Journey into UX Design

The field of User experience (UX) design was largely unknown to me until fairly recently.  It is not something I was introduced to as part of my undergraduate psychology degree despite studying ‘Cyberpsychology’, which focuses on the study of human cognition and behavior within the ever expanding digital world. Although the ‘Cyberpsychology’ part of my course did not directly discuss UX design as a discipline (which now I think it should have) it opened my eyes to the effects that technology is having on our everyday lives, from the way we communicate to how we behave offline vs online. This is what initially drew my interest to the field of online research.

Dr. Susan Weinschenk UX
Dr. Susan Weinschenk on the psychologists view of UX Design

Yet, it wasn’t until shortly after I completed my degree that I first came face to face with the term UX design. I was scouring job sites (as all new graduates do) trying to find an area where I could combine my background in psychology with my new interests in online research. Admittedly, I was skeptical at first as to how UX design and psychology were intrinsically related. However, once I began researching the field more thoroughly, I immediately recognize the overlap.

I discovered that like empirical psychological research, good UX design relies on data gathered from qualitative and quantitative research methods such as interviews, observations and surveys. Having a background in psychology placed me in a great position to start practicing UX, as not only had I built a strong foundation around these research practices, but I had also (without realizing it) studied many of the same theories and concepts that underpin much of the research that is done within UX.

For example, I found that motivation, perception, memory, attention and cognitive biases must all be considered when observing/testing users. I also found that the only way to consider these concepts in relation to different users is to be empathetic. Thus, the ability to show empathy and understand another person’s situation and experience has been essential to my role as a UX researcher. Empathy is another UX skill I have been developing unwittingly for a number of years through my previous work as a student mentor. When I came to realize its importance within UX research, I knew that this was the right career choice for me.

designbook

One strange aspect of being a UX researcher that I have grown to enjoy is explaining what it is to other people. As UX is a relatively unknown field it is very common for others to ask what it is. Although explaining what UX is to laymen can be a hard task at times, I get a great sense of satisfaction and achievement from another person having an ‘aha’ moment when they finally come to understand what I do (I get the same feeling when a user instinctively knows how to work an interface).

I’ve found that one of the most effective ways of explaining UX to another person is to discuss the design of everyday objects and why they are designed that way. Once they realize that everything from their car to their Xbox controller has mountains of usability research behind it they often think ‘well yeah I guess it does make sense to do the same thing for websites’.

UX Design
Understanding UX Design

A good example of this was when I was discussing my new job with my brother and I was using one of the many definitions that I had picked up online to describe it to him (such as these UX Design, UX Research), but he was still finding it hard to understand. The conversation then moved on to his new car and how it was so much easier for him to start and stop the engine using a button rather than turning a key and that’s when I said that’s the outcome of UX research, that’s what I do, but think online…his ‘Aha’ moment then followed shortly after.

This is also when I realized that UX practitioners had been recycling findings from fields like ergonomics and human factors and applying them to online environments, which only enhanced my interest in the field.

Looking to the future I’m excited to see what new challenges I’ll face in my role as a UX researcher and how the field will evolve alongside new technologies. Also, having spoken to others in the field and seeing how enthusiastic they are (even after 10 years) I’m very confident that I have made the right career choice.

 

Humans and Tech Risk

highlighting dangerous tech

New technologies are constantly being released in the market with new, exciting functions and reshaping the way we live our lives as human beings. Psychological research studies may be helpful in understanding how people engage with technology and how they manage the risks and dangers relevant to information and data storage.

Williams (2002) looked at the government’s efforts to educate the public in security risks that threaten public health, security, environmental climate change and other well being factors.

Williams suggested a framework for understanding how humans process information from a focuses on brain science and the human species’ ability to perceive risk.

Central to Williams’ theoretical framework is what he calls “brain lag,” or the notion that the human brain has not evolved as rapidly as the pace of modernisation and, therefore, is incapable of perceiving many risks and threats in a modern world.

As a result, these shortcomings in perception and intellect leave humans ill-equipped to comprehend certain technology related risks and they lack an innate “common sense” response to many modern threats (p. 227).

Williams (2002) makes the point that the trait of adaptation also brings with it an element of denial within behaviour because humans begin to accept false normalities in an urbanised world (e.g., living in cities with polluted air or adapting to the noise of a nearby airport). If denial by adaptation occurs, Williams (2002) maintains that humans will rely on sensory information to determine risk; however, many modern hazards tend to be unnoticeable to the human senses.

Conveying risk in IT is a complicated task.

Furthermore, he characterised conveying the hazards and risks of information security as a highly complex task for governments as there is little sensory information available for humans to assess information risk properly and to characterise such risk as threatening.

Elaborating on his theoretical framework and relying on evolutionary brain science, Williams puts forth the core concept of “enhanced difference” and outlines rules for creating communication materials on modern risks (p.244).

His “enhanced difference” concept relies on the basic evolutionary skills humans have to experience fear or disgust, estimate size and impact through number-scale perception, and to determine reliable entities through a trust versus cheating assessment.

Ultimately, Williams’ “enhanced difference” guidelines aim to make any unseen or unobserved risks of the modern world more visible to humans by appealing to those fundamental, perceptive skills.

Williams, C. (2002). ‘New security’ risks and public educating: the significance of recent evolutionary brain science. Journal of Risk Research, 5 (3), 225 – 248.

Constructs of Privacy Online

Online Privacy is generally surrounded with doubt and scepticism, putting trust into a machine and allowing details of your private life to be absorbed is a daunting thought. Who can see it? How safe is it? What sites can be trusted? Are all prevalent questions that most of us ask. When we are online we want to feel secure and there are many threats out there that can effect our online behaviour, making us cautious.

Dourish and Anderson suggest that Privacy online can be determined by social and cultural circumstances, including group formation, group identity, group membership, and acceptable behaviours characterised within the group. They defined privacy as a social practice including aspects such as solitude, confidentiality and autonomy.

The researchers challenged existing models of privacy and security in regards to Human Computer Interaction concerns, citing areas where prior research has shown the failings of technological and design solutions in addressing usability needs and anticipating the real-world practices, preferences, and behaviours of end-users.

Dourish and Anderson outlined three models of theoretical approaches to understanding privacy and security that have failed to account for actual information habits and practices of users.

  • First, they considered the existing model of privacy as an economic rationality, where the risk and reward of exchanging information takes on a value that can be prioritised (e.g., the benefit of online purchasing versus the costs of disclosing financial information) and the user is positioned as an entity able to calculate the impact of such a risk.
  • Second, they presented the model of privacy as a practical action whereby security measures are considered in the context of everyday life and how people achieve privacy in real settings. Viewing privacy and security as a practice in action makes them ongoing measures rather than any static or fixed ideals. It also forces considerations of privacy and security beyond technical and computer systems and toward considerations of the context, so the people, organisations, entities or even the physical space involved.
  • Third, and lastly, the researchers presented the model of privacy as a discursive practice where use of language constitutes how privacy and security are characterised. Depending on the social or cultural circumstances, the language used to describe a risk will take on a clear perspective of whether the action is acceptable and securem, or unacceptable and insecure (e.g., co-workers choosing to share passwords as a display of teamwork, contradicting company policy).

For the most part, the first model of privacy as an economic rationality has dominated information system design. However, Dourish and Anderson (2006) next reframe privacy and security, keeping in line with the latter two models, which are more inclusive of social aspects and then position privacy and security as a collective rather than individual practice. In terms of how groups or cultures interpret risk, the researchers focus on risk as an aspect of danger assessment or the moral value shared by the collective.

This perspective reinforces the requirement for information technology systems to acknowledge individuals may be part of a collective and consequently aid them where necessary as individuals and a collective.

Another aspect of collective practice is the dynamic relationships within the collective itself and how secrecy and trust are expressed and group identity formed. Social practices of the users (how they manage, share, or withhold information) are positioned as markers of group membership which dictate trust and information sharing.

The researchers then argue that information system design must recognise the need to selectively share information and should negotiate a continuum of public versus private boundaries rather than giving information an inherent value of one over the other.

Finally, Dourish and Anderson (2006) presented their system design solutions that include a visual feedback of system performance so that users are aware of the potential consequences of their actions and they suggest integrating a system’s configuration panels (i.e., the visual control panels that manage privacy settings) with the relevant user actions so that users are aware of the constraints their security preferences have placed on their system’s performance.

Dourish, P. & Anderson, K. (2006). Collective Information Practice: Exploring Privacy and Security as Social and Cultural Phenomena. Human-Computer Interaction, 21(3), 319-342.

http://www.dourish.com/publications/2006/DourishAnderson-InfoPractices-HCIJ.pdf


Dourish, P. & Anderson, K. (2006). Collective Information Practice: Exploring Privacy and Security as Social and Cultural Phenomena. Human-Computer Interaction, 21(3), 319-342.
http://www.dourish.com/publications/2006/DourishAnderson-InfoPractices-HCIJ.pdf 

Women and Video Games

 

When we think of ‘gamers’ a certain stereotype appears in most people’s minds and this stereotype is more often than most a male. Video games have become increasing popular world wide, with a diverse range of games the demographic profile of the typical player or ‘gamer’ is also changing. As more and games are released or readily available consequently there has been an increase in average age and an equalising gender distribution (1)

However, the literature consistently finds that males play video games more frequently than females and play for longer intervals (2). It also states that both genders are equally likely to view video game playing as a masculine pursuit (3).

The gendering of video game play has been linked to low female motivation to play video games because of gender-role stereotyping (4). Particularly a connection has been made to reduced female participation in areas like science, mathematics, and technology, where there is a historical perception of women as ‘inferior’ (5).

Bryce and Rutter (2002) have argued that video game research must challenge the dominant gender stereotypes in gaming and focus on game-play as a “domestic” or leisure practice “in the context of everyday life” (p. 248), especially given the many genres of games, range of places in which to game and the popularity of domestic and online gaming among females.

Thus, context and personal experience become crucial factors in generating an explanatory model of female motivation in gaming. To date, there is no research on female gamers in circumstances where females are the perceived dominant gamers.

Female players are most pronounced in the ‘casual games’ industry (6), where they account for 51% of all players and 74% of the buyers (7).

Casual games have simple rules, allowing players to “get into” game-play quickly, are highly accessible to novice players, and can belong to any game genre (8). Researchers focusing on gender and computer games have suggested that casual games are often overlooked as “real” games because of an “unarticulated aesthetic” in the gaming community that considers mastery of so-called hardcore games as a right of passage to be a true gamer (9). Carr (2005) argues that simply because hard-core gamers appear more committed to their gaming, it does not mean that they are “more representative or more credible” than casual-gamers (p. 468).

As gender stereotypes persist regarding who is an ‘avid’ gamer, actual figures suggest that although males appear to play more than females, such findings are only true for certain countries, gaming platforms, and game genres (10).

Arguably it is possible that research into gaming may have overlooked different genres and platforms where female players are more common than it initially appears. The further in depth the research delves the more evident it becomes that certain studies may have overlooked these factors.

(1) (Entertainment Software Association, 2009).

(2) Williams, Yee, & Caplan, 2008; Ogletree & Drake, 2007; Griffiths, Davies, & Chappell, 2004; Phillips, Rolls, Rouse, & Griffiths, 1995

(3)(Selwyn, 2007).

(4) (Lucas & Sherry, 2004)

(5) see Cassell & Jenkins, 1998

(6) Krotoski, 2004

(7) Casual Games Association, 2007

(8) Juul, 2009

(9) Sweedyk & de Laet, 2005, p. 26

(10) Krotoski, 2004

An excerpt from Lewis, A.M. and Griffiths, M.D. (2011). A qualitative study of the experiences and motivations of female casual-gamers. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació ide l’Esport, 28, 245-272. (Spanish and English text).

The complete text is available as a part of the “open journals” system:
http://www.revistaaloma.net/index.php/aloma/article/view/37

UX and Due Diligence

UX is the key to a congested tech landscape.

Day to day living has changed dramatically due to the ability to connect via a diverse range of devices. Society has entered a hyper-connected movement that allows social, educational, and business spheres to be separated. The power of software and wired devices encourages users to savour the privacy,  anonymity, invisibility and convenience of the Internet as a platform.

Users quickly become dependent on being connected online and are swift to evaluate how efficiently and effectively a product meets these needs.

Understanding how and why people accept or reject a product is the framework for improving product user experience, and consequently product success in an ever-crowding marketplace.

As investors assess opportunities within the congested “tech” landscape, it becomes crucial to include a consideration of the product’s user experience as the unique differentiator. Likewise, as companies examine digital media products for acquisition or partnership, it is absolutely paramount that a user-centred evaluation of the product’s potential and features is outlined in the forward-looking growth strategy.

Leaders ought to consider the following two issues when evaluating a product’s potential:

1) The product’s ability to evolve and adapt to user needs

While product evolution and adaptation may be assumed elements of success, the ability to change quickly to respond to market needs should not be taken for granted. Costly, early builds inevitably become legacy products in the rapidly changing digital media environment. Furthermore, if any element of a service relies on such a legacy system, then the service cannot be so concisely defined and tied to that system that service itself cannot evolve. It is nearly impossible for software and system developers to anticipate all user needs and context of use scenarios. The very genius of an initial product concept should not be its own demise. A product or concept must have an inherent adaptability and this adaptability relies on a user-centred positioning. Where the concept and usage states fully tested with potential target audiences? How was user research and feedback incorporated into the development process? And, finally, is there a development framework that allows user feedback to fuel future innovation?
2) The development team’s approach to incorporating user requirements

Brilliant minds are frequently forthright when it comes to clarity of strategy, but is there too much pride if never considering a fall? There are times when leaders, product teams, designers and engineers are so thoroughly embedded within their own product experience that they are unable to strategically execute on user experience and customer insight. A simple resolution for any such reluctance and resistance is to ensure that customer insight and UX are the driving values of the product development cycle. Quite simply, in order to embrace the technology, a user must be able to use the technology, and much more so, achieve mastery of the product for any sense of self-efficacy. When a team recognises that product adoption is a core aspect of innovation, then a user centred philosophy is the natural approach.  “But customers don’t know what they want!” The second point is not to suggest that development teams should be led solely by user requirements. However, leadership teams must be amenable to input from users and implement structured changes based on feedback by finding the innovation on the solution that leads to rich, product differentiation.

User experience analysis provides an accurate valuation of digital media products in the marketplace by providing quantifiable and impartial insights. The UX field has expanded to include research, design, development, and project management. Many agencies and companies have adopted a user-centred development process as a key competitive edge. While challenges remain as to how UX insight successfully merges with business strategy, one adage remains clear: the customer may not know what they want, but the customer is always right.

 

Human factors, User Research, Design Research