Craft A Killer UX: Don’t Just Fix What’s Broken

In a recent leadership podcast, one comment stood out:

“A great leader doesn’t just fix what’s broken”*

I love that quote and it made me wonder how it applies to user experience. Think about it…how often a user experience stalls because all design time is spent designing fixes to customer problems within the bounds of the current product rather than keeping focused on the overall user experience mission?

A seemingly common pattern in designing a great user experience is to have a grand vision…a mission statement…for a product’s user experience, work feverishly to make its first release as good as it can be, and ship it. However, as soon as the first release is out, customers request to fix pain points or add tweaks to improve what was shipped. Naturally, we want our customers happy so we focus our next releases on solving those pain points.

While reacting to customer feedback is important, how we react could make the difference from a ‘decent’ user experience to a ‘killer’ user experience.

If we are not careful, we can quickly narrow our design focus on how to solve the problem to be only within the bounds of our current product’s capabilities or infrastructure. We forget our user experience mission (or maybe just let it fade?) and as a result the user experience fades as well.

While patching a current UX may solve a customer’s current problem, I wonder if it actually reduces that customer’s overall satisfaction? If we keep accommodating repair requests, we may never have the chance to surprise and delight that customer with the killer UX envisioned in the original mission.

For me, creating a UX mission statement for each product is essential. That mission statement, along with our target personas, drive everything. When we do get customer requests, I find it useful to look at the request through the lens of that mission to see if it should be repaired directly, or if we can surprise and delight them by producing something much better that moves us closer to the overall vision.

What do you think? What other ways can we apply “Don’t just fix what’s broken” to keep improving our user experience?

* From Andy Stanley’s Leadership podcast

Here’s My Wall Of Experience – What’s Yours?

I just moved offices, and had to decide whether to move this:
WallOfExperience
What is it?

It’s my “Wall of Experience” for technical speaking and demoing…layers of badges each representing one or several sessions I gave at a technical conference.

For me, the decision was clear: Move it, Cherish it, Study it.

Why? Because each conference helped me be a better speaker…each session honed my skills. As I pulled each badge down from the old wall and later put it up on the new wall, memories came flooding back…not only about the city/country I was in, but also in what I learned:

It went something like this:

  • Ah, this was my first solo presentation…ever. I learned I could actually do this!
  • This is the one I was so nervous for because the ‘critical customer’ was in the crowd…I learned that honesty and deep technical knowledge beats showmanship
  • Here was the one that I added theatrics…first session went great, second one didn’t…but in the end the attendees appreciated the effort. I learned if you care about your customer, they appreciate it even if it doesn’t totally work.
  • This one was my first keynote…I learned that 10 run-thrus really do make the keynote go smoothly!
  • This is the one where I improvised on the piano…I learned that doing something unexpected keeps your audience’s attention
  • This one I only had one person show up…but he learned a lot because I learned how to personalize a pitch just for him
  • …and on and on.

    Each badge, sticker, pin, ribbon helped shape my skills and unique techniques. I’m grateful for each one.

    I’m starting to think I need to create a wall of experience for other things I’m passionate about to remind me how far I’ve come, what I’ve learned, and that I can still learn something from every single experience.

    I also think we need to start sharing our walls of experience. If I can learn something from your experience, and you from mine, then we both become better.

    How about you? What is your wall of experience? What has it taught you?

    2013 Mission: Create The Best Designs of My Career

    Every January I walk into work with a fresh outlook, clear mind, and am brimming with ideas on what I want to accomplish for the year.

    …for exactly 17 minutes.

    At the 18th minute (17:03 to be exact), the emails, calls, and instant messages come rolling in asking for my advice, help, work, skills, along with memories about unfinished business from last year. Very quickly I get a full list of to-do’s that have nothing to do with what I really want to accomplish. If I’m not careful, I could spend the whole year fighting these little fires (hence the lateness of this ‘welcome to 2013’ post).

    This year, I’m going to be very intentional about achieving my 2013 mission…

    2013 Mission: Create the best designs of my career

    I know. Lofty. But if I shoot for anything less, our customers lose out. What follows is a list of what I’m going to do so I focus on my mission.

    Make My To-Do List MY LIST
    My default reaction when I get a request is to agree, then break it down into nuggets I can work on. The result is that each nugget is identified, a solution is defined, and I work to complete them successfully.

    The problem?

    Most of those to-do’s are either too small to help achieve my mission (just fixing an issue in an existing user interface), or they are to-do’s that contribute to someone else’s mission! While I love helping others succeed, I can’t lose focus of helping our users succeed by providing them the best designs I have ever done.

    This year, every time I see a task, I’ll ask myself, “Will this help me accomplish my mission”?  If yes, then onto the to-do list it goes. If not, well, I will say no or delegate to someone who can do it.

    Team with “Better Than Me’s”
    In the world of user experience, it’s always a plus to have a team filled with folks that are better than you. For me, it raises my game and in the end I produce a better design for our users. I’m fortunate to be in a team that is filled with awesome designers, crazy-great developers, and fellow inventors.

    Let my game rise!

    Design Less
    In 2013, I want to reduce how much UI is needed in designs. In the same way I edit down a song to make the lyrics and music better, I need to constantly  reduce the amount of UI so the interaction is better.

    If I keep cutting ‘bells and whistles’ in the design, at some point one sweet tone will ring true…that’s when I’ll know it’s ready.

    Design so Users Succeed
    This may seem obvious, but many times my focus has been “How do I fit this feature into the product”, or even, “This will provide the feature AND be simpler to develop”. This year my focus will be, “How can our user succeed in their goals…and does this feature even help in that success?”. If I can’t answer that, then maybe the feature shouldn’t be added.

    Start. NOW.
    I will not wait for the perfect moment, or the muse to strike. I won’t get coffee first…I’ll start the design NOW. The hardest part is to get something on paper. Once there’s something there, you can easily see the gaps, the bad stuff to replace, and the good stuff to keep.

    Then, once a draft is done, walking to the coffee lady can be filled with mental iterations on making the design better…then my draft 2 on paper is really draft 18.

    Put Pencil to Paper
    Seriously. I will actually get blank paper and pencils. Nothing is faster than capturing inspired designs than a pencil drawing on paper. I lost my way trying to create realistic mockups for the first iteration of the design. This year I’ll wait until it’s the 7th iteration.

    ~~~~~~~~

    Welcome to 2013! Happy to have you as a reader, and I can’t wait to create some awesome user experiences!

    Question: How are you going to create the best designs of your career?

    Worst Intro EVER – How NOT To Communicate Your Message

    I was just in Las Vegas speaking at a trade show. I peeked into a 300 seat room the day before my session and heard:

    “I really don’t like these after-lunch time slots…I like mornings when I have a captive audience”

    Seriously?

    That was his opening line! In one swift statement, this speaker communicated to the 75+ in the audience:

    “I don’t want to be here”
    He obviously wanted to speak in a morning session. Stupid. If the audience is sitting in front of you, you have a rare opportunity to communicate your message to those specific humans. Who knows where each of these human connections will lead…other contacts, more sales, a better understanding of your product, even unique feedback on your product’s user experience. There are a thousand ways to blow a speaking session, but this is the most dumb.

    “I don’t want you here”
    He insulted his audience by assuming they would be inattentive. It’s like he said, “All of you in this audience are not who I had in mind. Even though you chose his topic over the 5 other concurrent topics, you are bound to be inattentive. After all, the success of this session is really up to you, the audience. If only you people were different, you would make the session more compelling”. Stupid speaker.

    “I’m not really that good”
    On the surface it sounds like he’s so proud of his message that he doesn’t want to ‘waste’ it on the 78 people in the audience. I think he’s just not that good: To lay blame on a lame session…before it even starts…on the audience, the time slot, the lunch, tells me he’s accepted a disastrous outcome and does not want to be responsible for its failure. Heaven forbid he work on his delivery, add some passion, and communicate concepts clearly so it’s interesting to the audience … even during an after-lunch session.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    If I’ve learned anything from my 18 years of speaking about technology is that whether you have 1 or 1,501 in attendance (I’ve had both), they are there because they want to learn what you know…they already chose you over many other options (including exploring the host city). It’s your responsibility to focus, deliver with passion, use stories and personal experience to make it interesting…and make them thrilled they spent that hour with you because it might just change how they run their business.

    How about you? What is the worst speaker intro you’ve ever heard?

     

    Frustrated Inventor, and Loving It!

    I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t get ticked off at technology…

    …and I love it!

    Well at least from my inventor perspective. Let me explain…

    I know, we’re supposed to be spinning around this sun pursuing happiness and all things fuzzy, but when it comes to inventing, I love it when I, my kids, or a co-worker gets frustrated with technology, the way things work, the stupid designs we all come across that seem so un-obvious.

    Why? Because every little thing that gets us frustrated might the beginnings of a beautiful, patentable idea.

    Here’s what I do: When I get frustrated with technology, something clicks in my head to pay attention. And then, (and this is key), I notice WHY I’m frustrated, and then I write it down. I don’t solve the problem right then and there, but I’ve recorded a nugget of inspiration that can later turn into a patentable idea. And it doesn’t even have to be me that’s frustrated. I can point to at least a couple patents that started with my son saying “Dang, I HATE THIS! If only…”.

    Maybe spend a day and try it. If not for the fun of inventing, maybe for the fun of discovering a new product or service you can make money at!

    Here are two other things you could try to get ideas to surface:

    1) Write down problems you needed to solve regarding a project you work on. Think back to meetings where you and your team wrestled with how to solve a technical issue. Then, recall all of the ideas that you crossed off as ‘too lofty’ or ‘too expensive’. Those may be nuggets for great patents.

    2) Sit in a cafeteria/public place and listen for:

    • “You’d think they’d…”
    • “If only…”
    • “It would work so much better if…”
    • and my favorite: “They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t…”

    These are not patents themselves, but they are nuggets of ideas that could turn into patents.

    Finally, when you explore new consumer technology, think of how it could be applied to your area of expertise…some of my favorite patentable ideas have come from the strangest of locations (Hard Rock Cafe in Vegas) 🙂

    Give it a go! Who knows, you may surprise someone when they say “Aw crap, don’t you hate it when…”, and instead of you feeling bad for them, you respond with a big ‘ol smile, pad and pencil in hand, and say, “Awesome! Tell me more…”

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