The User Experience Team of One A Research and Design Survival Guide
In The User Experience Team of One, Leah Buley has written a practical and inspiring book for people who want to improve the user experience of the websites, apps, software, and other products they are working on through a user-centric design process.
The book is well-organized, suitable to be read cover to cover, or as a reference from which to pluck useful methods as needed. Part II is the meat of the book, consisting of a collection of user experience design techniques. It is divided into Planning and Discovery Methods (Chapter 5), Research Methods (Chapter 6), Design Methods (7), Testing and Evaluation Methods (8), and finally Evangelism Methods (Chapter 10). Each method has an overview and introduction, approximate time to complete, best use-cases, step-by-step instructions, and further tips for the best chance of success.
Also helpful is a “if you only do one thing” section at the end of each chapter. For many readers of this book, at least initially, employing these methods may be something they do on top of their current workload. Boiling it down to one essential place to start is much less daunting.
Many of the methods the author describes do not take a major time investment, and allow you to start small, with an informal approach. Often, they are lighter-weight takes on traditional methods (such as “proto-personas” rather than full-fledged user personas). This makes the process less intimidating, and perhaps easier for decision-makers in the company to swallow.
One method I found intriguing is the Black Hat Session (Method 20). In this type of design feedback session, any designs needing critique are taped up on the wall. Everyone then notes all their criticisms on post-its which they place next to the designs. I like this idea for a couple of reasons. One, people are generally bad at giving design feedback, and this allows both them and the designer to strip away the pretense of being kind or constructive. Second, while it’s public — everything is out in the open — it’s somehow indirect and less personal. For these reasons, participants can be as blunt as they like, and designers will be less prickly and sensitive. It’s a loose, informal method that should be easy for many people to engage in.
A couple of shortcomings
I imagine many wannabe UX teams of one are working for an organization with an existing website or app. They may have joined the company long after the product was initially developed. Unfortunately, Buley doesn’t call out techniques to improve an existing, entrenched product. The methods are mostly presented in the context of developing a new product or feature — one way or another, starting from a blank slate. While many carry over, such as some validation and testing methods, there must be others that are better-suited for evolving an already-exising product. For example, how do you get buy-in from the rest of the company when they have made it this far without anyone having “user experience” in her title?
Also, a few UX design methods which I’ve learned more about recently are absent, for example journey maps and card sorting. In fact, there is no method which addresses information architecture. This is a little surprising, since not only is it a key aspect of website and app development, but also because the author herself has a degree in the topic. I think one or two methods for building intuitive navigation would be a great addition to this book.
The User Experience Team of One is very well-suited for the designer, developer, or project manner who knows deep down she should be doing user research and lightweight prototyping and usability testing, but just doesn’t know where to start, or how to convince the rest of her company. Leah Buley provides a collection of useful, relatively low-budget tools for the fledgling UX team of one.
NB: Leah is posting on various methods, with free book giveaways weekly on the book’s blog.
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