Tag Archives: User Needs

An interview with Gene Moy

Gene Moy, Principal User Experience Designer
Gene Moy, Principal User Experience Designer

With over 15 years of experience designing products as diverse as military, medical, and consumer-facing systems, Gene is a Principal User Experience Designer. He transforms insights derived from observations of human behavior into strategies that inform critical user experiences with remarkable value.

Having earned an MA in American Studies and a BA in Rhetoric, Gene has worked with many high profile clients including Hallmark, Sears, Borders, Wilton, and Sallie Mae.

Gene uses his cross-disciplinary knowledge, to best find solutions that achieve a balance between stakeholder and user needs. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Gene a few questions and gather an insight into his work and life:

 

 

How did you first get involved/interested in UX?

GM: In brief, many of my generation fell into this work accidentally, and we were helped by good timing. I was no different. In the early ’90s, an opportunity created by technology to do something called “interactive multimedia” emerged. At UCLA, where I was a graduate student in Asian American Studies, history professor Jan Reiff was teaching a course in history and multimedia. Somehow I got a hold of some graphics software, and armed with a copy of David Siegel’s Creating Killer Web Sites, I started making graphics and writing HTML. In those days, there was no name for what we did back then, no schools, no gurus — all of it fell under the rubric “webmaster” or “webmistress”. As the web became more capable beyond mere brochureware, it was shown that efficacy, usefulness, and utility had effects on success metrics. Showing and selling things online progressively became less interesting to me than helping people accomplish tasks, goals, and minimizing their pain points. And that’s how I got into this work.

...each new group we work with, opens new opportunities to learn something about how people work, perceive, describe, and shape the world.
…each new group we work with, opens new opportunities to learn something about how people work, perceive, describe, and shape the world.

What aspect of UX do you enjoy the most and why?

GM: I’m fortunate enough to be able to participate at every part of the lifecycle. At Honeywell User Experience, our design thinking cycle looks like this: Understand, where we interview and observe users, analyze their utterances for insights, then synthesize them to produce solutions; Design, where we try to give form to those solutions and map them back to user jobs, goals, and pain points; and then Evaluate, where we see how well our design assumptions, now given form, have met those user needs. This isn’t very different from anyone else’s cycle, say, ISO 13407 or 9241. So each phase, and each new group we work with, opens new opportunities to learn something about how people work, perceive, describe, and shape the world. This is my life work now. I never tire of it.

In the past, you have worked with many high profile clients including Hallmark, Sears, Borders, and Wilton, to name a few. What projects did you most enjoy working on? Can you tell us about your favorite project and what was so unique or enjoyable about it?

GM: When I think back, common to all great consulting gigs were nice people in creative and sharing environments, with professional respect and behavior, in great places to work that weren’t oppressive. The work is always the same work, it doesn’t change, so it’s important that everything else in context goes well. Yet I feel the most important work we did was at Siemens and User Centric (now GfK UX), where people’s lives were involved, and now here at Honeywell, where we’re building a user experience practice.

...attention and memory are finite resources, so proper design should take care to conserve and extend them, but not to the point where you've created cognitively frictionless experiences...
…attention and memory are finite resources, so proper design should take care to conserve and extend them, but not to the point where you’ve created cognitively frictionless experiences…

We see from your previous work that you also have substantial experience in designing both military and medical products. Tell us, what are some of the major challenges working in these areas and how much do they differ from one and other? 

GM: The stakes are much higher. In e-commerce, generally, a catastrophic user experience doesn’t result in injury or death to the user or the lives that the user has in their care. And generally in these other domains operators are trying to do many things all at once — true of medical, transportation, finance, and military applications — a lot of integrative thinking going on, what Hutchins termed distributed cognition — so their resources are taxed fairly heavily, even with training. Thanks to Kahneman, Tversky, among others, we now know attention and memory are finite resources, so proper design should take care to conserve and extend them, but not to the point where you’ve created cognitively frictionless experiences, which has also led people into trouble.

Why do you think UX is so important for organizations to get right?

GM: Perhaps it is naive of me, but I believe at a certain level people consume products and services to become more of who they are or who they want to be. They are entering into a kind of relationship with your organization. When those products and services don’t help people accomplish those things, the entire reason why people have come to you, it damages that relationship. We’re surrounded by things and services that don’t work for people, that don’t help them achieve their goals, that create pain points for them. And broken promises over time will damage trust, authority, and ultimately the brand story that a company is aspiring to, or trying to tell about itself. User Experience may only be one part of that story but it’s an important part of how the story gets communicated.

A widely debated topic in UX is that all ‘good’ UX professionals should possess the ability to write and understand code. What are your thoughts on this topic?

GM: It’s alleged that when Gandhi was asked what he thought about western civilization, he is said to have answered, I think it would be a good idea. The code question sort of reminds me of that. Isn’t it interesting that people don’t say we should possess the ability to evaluate our models with users instead? Never mind that they focus only on software. This tells you that people in our industry still aren’t focused on users and their needs, only on software production. But our discipline is called user experience and not software engineering for a reason.

...people in our industry still aren't focused on users and their needs, only on software production.
…people in our industry still aren’t focused on users and their needs, only on software production.

Now that our discipline is mature, as a basic skill, like a prerequisite for any generalist, some fundamental production ability is necessary, just as much as evaluation. If you look at the origins of interaction design, what is common to all the pioneers is that they weren’t afraid to make things or get their hands dirty, and then as they evaluated their work with more people, they became more interested in things like user behavior. A good background in production taught me the importance of knowing what are the basic capabilities and properties of the material you’re going to be working with, whether its software, hardware, services, or support. Specialists will continue make things professionally, but as a competent professional you should be able to make a basic model by yourself to assist in evaluation whether it’s physical or digital or a service. But I think it is more important to understand the users’ intent and how well your model achieves that, and not per se in punching code.

What are your predictions about the future of UX, say 20 years from now?

GM: There will be more CUXOs, chief user experience officers, responsible for the UX strategy of the organization, under which all experience efforts of the organization will align. Outside of consumer retail, the buyers may not the ones who install, maintain, troubleshoot your products and services: those are users of your system as well, and their needs must be accounted for in the complete design of any value offering. So there has to be an expansion of user experience efforts beyond individual touchpoints to understand the whole end-to-end journey. And of course it’s my hope that as we do so people will think of UX no longer as bound exclusively to websites or apps, but products and services of all kinds, such as we’ve been directed to do at Honeywell User Experience, and eventually even government policies.

You were a contributor to the book, ‘Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture from Astro Boy to Zen Buddhism’. Tell us, what was your inspiration and thoughts behind publishing this book?

GM: Eastern Standard Time was a project launched by the staff of the now defunct A. Magazine, one of the foremost voices during the golden age of Asian American magazine publishing in the 90s. I only contributed, working under a fantastic editor, Terry Hong. I graduated from Illinois with a focus on nonfiction writing, and as a budding Asian Americanist, I was interested in locating how we were historically seen, heard, portrayed, and thought of in North American pop culture. The accessibility of the project really appealed to me. Perhaps that was the start of my career in user-centered design, in a sense.  

Ad Hoc London Team

Ad Hoc London explores audience needs in the UK. We routinely conduct UX and usability research in London, Southampton, Manchester, and Glasgow. We optimise information for laptops, tablets and smartphones so customers have the best possible user experience. We help clients benefit from understanding their audiences’ varying needs.

An Interview with Graham Lee

Graham Lee has over 12 years’ experience in content design, managing content for large web migration projects and writing copy for digital tools and transactions.

Having earned a BA in Philosophy and early success in his role as web content editor working for brands such as Pearson Group and the Ministry of Justice, he now provides his knowledge and expertise to Ad Hoc Global as a senior strategist.

Graham has been described by colleagues past and present as a highly skilled and diligent copy designer who cares deeply about the needs of the user.

We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Graham a few questions and gather an insight into his work and life:

 

Graham_Lee
Graham Lee – Content designer

Why did you first become interested in UX/content design?Displaying content-designer-at-work.jpg

GL: I wrote blog posts and reviews in my spare time and stumbled into working on websites for a living. It was good to have an outsider’s point of view, as it meant I didn’t take a lot for granted. Official websites can look stuffy and use lots of long words that most people don’t use in real life. I remember thinking, ‘Who are they talking to here, and why are they using such odd terms?’

Was this always the career path you wanted to follow and did you expect to be working where you are now?

GL: Not at all! I always enjoyed writing but the web barely existed whenI left school. It would have been more realistic to dream of being an astronaut, as at least they were around back then.

Can you tell us a bit about your current role?

GL: I’m currently working for a public sector client, writing copy on using government services. It’s very rewarding, especially when you can take something that’s very complex and explain it in simple terms that everyone can understand.

content-designer-at-work
“We do lots of research with users to understand what they need from a service.”

How is user experience content design integrated into the workflow with your client?

GL: User experience and content design are factored in from the beginning. We do lots of research with users to understand what they need from a service. The content person then works closely with the designer and researcher to make sure the service is user-friendly.

In your opinion, what is the most important part of the content design process?

GL: Critical bit is making sure you write for the customer. There’s a lot of research involved in this: understanding who they are, what they need to do, how they’ll access a service and what problems they have going online. And then you have to tailor something bespoke for them. At the end of the day, the suit has to fit!

 

What specific research methods have you used and which is your most preferred method?

GL: I enjoy crunching the numbers on how people behave online, with things like web metrics or feedback data. But there’s nothing like meeting real users in person – for instance, sitting with them and seeing how they use a website. Even facial expressions can be revealing: preferably delighted ones when things test well. You really can’t get that from an email or emoticon. 🙂

content-designer-tools-of-the-trade (1)
Graham’s tools of the trade

What challenges do you encounter when carrying out research for content design?

GL: It’s hard to predict exactly what people will find confusing. You can make a very good guess, but there are always small things that they’ll trip up on which you hadn’t spotted beforehand. I don’t think this is a major problem, though. It just reinforces the need to make the content as clear as possible, and then test it.

What are your predictions about the future of UX and content design, say 20 years from now?

GL: UX and content design will be central. The web will be much more woven into everyday life, so the whole experience will have to be a lot more natural – like chatting to a friend, rather than typing a memo to your boss. This will mean that it’s more important than ever to use natural language and make sure what we design fits in with how people actually behave.

Finally, what do you do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of your work?

GL: Apart from being a bookworm and film buff, I’m currently trying to learn how to play the piano. I’m not a natural: my wife says I sound like Les Dawson (who played all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order). I won’t be giving up the day job!

Ad Hoc London Team

Ad Hoc London explores audience needs in the UK. We routinely conduct UX and usability research in London, Southampton, Manchester, and Glasgow. We optimise information for laptops, tablets and smartphones so customers have the best possible user experience. We help clients benefit from understanding their audiences’ varying needs.

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.

 

Andrea M Lewis

Andrea Lewis is a psychologist and Managing Director of Ad Hoc Global Ltd. With a foundation in equity research, she has been leading product development in technology and digital media for over 12 years and leads UX due diligence assessments, research, and strategy.