On documentation (or lack thereof)

I was talking to someone recently about doing some work with them. They said ‘can you send me some examples of documentation you’ve done lately’ – they wanted this to check that I could do what I said I could. Fair enough. Except, aside from the fact that all the documentation I’ve done lately is commercially confidential, so I’d have to hack it around a little to be able to show it to someone else… it made me realise how long it’s been since I’ve actually done the kind of ‘finished’ documentation I used to spend a lot of my time doing.

I just don’t work that way anymore, it seems. Sure, I still do wireframes every now and then, but never a ‘complete set’ and often with no where near the detail I used to include. Why? I think there are three reasons. Firstly, I tend to work on more of a strategic level than a detail ‘exactly where does that button go’ level these days. Secondly, I tend to work on projects where there is no time for that level of detail. And finally – and most interesting I think – I tend to work closer to the production team these days – more often are graphic designers designing and/or developers developing the very same stuff I’m wireframing at the same time. Investing too much in the documentation is a waste of everyones time – much better to do just enough to get them going and then work collaboratively with the team to do the fine tuning.

Personally, I think I should have been working more like this since forever.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Interesting08

I haven’t quite been able to watch this myself yet, but here is a video that someone took at the Interesting08 conference last weekend. I spoke about the development of the human brain and the importance of social interaction for babies. It was an excellent day – makes me feel only slightly better about missing Reboot10 this week.

Not sure what the quality is like, hopefully you can makes something of it – it’s about 10mins long.

Guerrilla Research – Recruitment

It’s been almost a year now that I’ve been doing predominantly ‘guerrilla’ design research. For me, this means testing in the field with a minimum of time, budget and fuss so that this kind of activity and the insight it provides is available to pretty much any client/budget/timeframe.

One of the first challenges for guerrilla design research is recruitment – the particular objective being to avoid using recruitment companies in order to reduce the cost of the project and also avoid the delay (often up to 2 weeks!) that is typically associated with recruitment.

A common approach to guerrilla recruitment is simply to rock up at a venue where your target audience is likely to congregate and to try to recruit on the spot. Typical venues might be a local Starbucks or a conference.

This is not an approach that I tend to use, for a couple of reasons – primarily because I really have to relinquish a lot of control over who I involve in my research… more than I feel comfortable with, given the responsibility that I have to my clients to provide them with useful insight. Also, sometimes the recruit briefs I need to meet are quite complex and require me to be quite selective when identifying participants. This is quite difficult to do on the fly and face to face… it can lead to either some awkward moments or spending time doing research with people who aren’t really quite right.

The approach that I have been using (and many of you are probably very aware of this!) is to use my online social network using tools such as my blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, and FaceBook. I have been pleasantly surprised by how successful this has been – on a number of levels.

Essentially how it works is that I work with my client to define a ‘call for participation’ that will be posted – the objective here is to get people interested in the research, to get more rather than less people to contact us, but hopefully mostly people who are at least close to right for the profile. I have to say, I am quite happy not to have to put together screeners any more (or review screeners received from recruitment companies). In fact… if I never saw another screener again I’d be perfectly happy :)

I do, up to a point, think about what ‘channels’ to use. As a gross generalisation, somewhere like Facebook is better for a less technical participant, where as Twitter is better for a more technically savvy participant… this is a gross generalisation though because more often than not, the people who I end up meeting are not directly in my network, but friends, family, colleagues of people in my network. This is the real power of ‘guerrilla’ recruiting, and a big reason why the ‘channels’ matter much less than having great people in your networks :) (Preferably great people with lots of friends, family and colleagues!)

To date, my experience has been that undertaking recruitment in this way has been cheaper (obviously – I don’t charge myself or my client ‘recruitment’ fees per participant), and faster (rather than weeks, recruits are sometimes filled within hours, definitely days of posting a call for participation). The most pleasant discovery has been that the quality of research participants is significantly higher than I had experienced when using recruitment companies.

In the past 12 months I’ve interviewed dozens of people and only had one ‘no show’ – and that was just a mix up with the dates as opposed to someone who just decided not to show. If you’ve done much research you know that it is not uncommon to have a day of six interviews lined up and only to get four participants to show up.

Some of the recruits I’ve had to fill have been fairly simple, but there have also been some incredibly complex briefs that I have no idea how I would have managed to effectively communicate to a recruitment company.

And the people who do turn up are fabulous – I’ve been amazed at how close to the ‘brief’ almost everyone I’ve met has been. They’ve been interested, enthusiastic, articulate and certainly not ‘professional research participants’ – the bane of any researchers existence!

Of course, you can always just take your design and show it to people in the office, take it home to your own family, show your friends – this can be very valuable. If you’re looking to do some research that is slightly more formalised, then perhaps you could consider using your own online social networks for this purpose.

It has certainly made me value even more the networks that I have in place and thankful for the great people who I interact with in these spaces.

(and, while I’m at it – if you’ve helped me with recruiting in the past year or so – thank you, thank you very much!)

‘I can’t work this!’ – iPhone’s cameo in Sex In The City Movie

Yes, I’ve seen the Sex In the City Movie, I’ll admit it. Either the rest of the UX community hasn’t seen it yet or we’re all just ignoring the fabulous user experience moment that Carrie has with the iPhone. For those who haven’t seen it, she is handed the iPhone (not hers) at a time when she urgently needs to make a phone call. She looks at it briefly, pronounces ‘I can’t work this’ and asks for a proper phone.

Unsurprisingly, Gizmodo reported it this way: ‘Confirmed: Carrie Bradshaw is too stupid to work a iPhone‘. Very helpful.

Personally, this was my favourite part of the whole movie (which says more about the movie than it does this particular moment). I loved the fierceness of her reaction to the unfamiliar interface.

It reminded me again that those of us who are ‘into’ interface design are really a fairly small group and how important it is for us to remember that the vast majority of people who encounter our interfaces do so on the way to achieving a task – sometimes one that is urgent and very important to them.

The people who encounter our interfaces in that kind of moment are not going to find them interesting, but an obstacle. And that they won’t take the time to ‘explore’ and ‘enjoy’ and ‘learn’ our amazing interface design.

It would be easy to say that SJP’s encounter with the iPhone showed that it lacked ‘usability’, but in fact it is probably more instructive as to the importance of evaluating usability over a longer term than just a one hour session in a usability lab. As I’ve said in the past, if something like the iPod, and no doubt the iPhone had been ‘usability tested’ using the traditional methods, they no doubt would have ‘failed’ and the world would be poorer for it.

All these things I had to think about because the movie was so disappointing… (speaking of bad UX).