Help Joy help you. On the unusability of internal systems.

 

I am out here for you. You don’t know what it’s like to be ME out here for YOU. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok? Help me… help you. Help me, help you. - Jerry Macguire

 

This is Joy’s notebook.

At the airport earlier today I had to switch my ticket from one flight to another. Joy was the customer service person who helped me do this.

Joy’s notebook is about two inches thick, she’s created an A-Z index for it, it is packed full of handwritten notes about how to do different tasks in the various system she uses – steps that need following, codes that need inputting. It sits beside her every day, beautifully decorated (with stickers) evidence of the horrendous usability of the software she uses to get her job done.

Joy has been working for this airline for years. She told me that some of the stuff that is in her notebook she doesn’t need anymore – either because they’ve upgraded to a new system or that, after years, she’s finally managed to memorise it.

She told me that each time they upgrade the system it seems to get harder, not easier, to use. Joy told me that all the customer service reps have a notebook like this. You can’t use the systems without one. Joy is digitally literate and confident with the computer, but it is impossible to use without the notebook.

Joy is frontline staff for a major international airline. She is delightful and doing her best to do great work and look after her customers, but this is what she’s got to work with. I wonder if I’d be so cheerful if I was in her seat. No wonder so many others are not.

Internal systems are the tools we give our frontline staff, the people who are in charge of the customer experience for the face to face and telephone channels. If you pay attention to people using these systems (either out of general professional interest or because you’re fortunate enough to work with the on a project), you’ll find that notebooks like Joy’s are not uncommon. They’re everywhere.

They are everywhere because the people who bought or made the system didn’t even think about the experience for internal staff. The internal staff who are stuck using it are so far away from the people who bought that expensive crap that they’ll never know how awful it is (or their jobs are in peril so they don’t dare complain).

Internal systems allow an organisation to deliver great customer experience throughout the customer journey. These systems let people like Joy be fast (or not), accurate (or not), joined up to the rest of the organisation (or not).

And yet, all the time, we say ‘It does’t matter, we’ll sort that out with training’, ‘Call the tech writers, we’ll make a manual for this system’,  ‘Don’t worry, we’ll inflict this piece of crap on our employees, unlike our customers they’re stuck with us’. Except they’re not really, are they.

This might have worked with Joy but as our employees begin to join our workforces as digital natives, familiar with the well designed exteriors of organisations, how well do you think they’ll take to the tools we offer them to book the tickets, create the content, manage the accounts.

I kind of fancy that they’re going to start telling us to lift our game, to stick our crappy internal systems up our jumpers, and to give them so decent tools so that they can be as efficient as we want them to be. So that they can offer the kind of customer service everyone wants to experience.

I really hope they do. I hope that they will demand that we do allow time to work on the usability of the content management system, not just the website. That a company will be able to win on customer service because they actually bothered to hire design team that lets the customer service people offer faster, better service. That the news company that optimises the content management interface wins because their journalists can write more, better content rather than battle the content management system for hours a day (true story).

And I really hope that one day Joy will be able to stop battling the interfaces she uses to give such great customer service and leave her notebook at home.

If you’re going to do this user experience thing properly, you’ve got to look at all the angles. If you respect for your employees and your customers you need to care about the user experience of internal systems. Challenge yourself to solve the often more difficult design problems of internal systems, and know that by doing that, you’re creating a better user experience for all.

Can there be too much empathy?

It is exciting to be the person on the team who is responsible for bringing the end user to life in a project team. To be the person who is advocating on behalf of the end user, to be fighting in their corner, to be trying to build an empathetic sense of who the end user is within your project team. It’s a fun job and it feels like a valuable contribution. It’s something I spend a lot of my time doing.

It’s important we don’t oversimplify our responsibilities when it comes to empathy.

Empathy goes rogue if you empathise with one party only. If your fervour for empathising with your end user affects your ability to empathise with the needs of the people in your project team, things will go badly. Your ability to be effective for the end user will be diminished or neutralised if that is the only perspective with which you can truly empathise.

That’s not to say that the needs of the developer or the delivery manager should outweigh the needs of the end user – user needs come first*. It is to say that in the way that you involve the rest of the team in experiencing empathy with the end user you are also seeking to understand what is important to the people in your team.

So, no, there probably can’t be too much empathy, just make sure you spread it around.

* this, of course, assumes that you’re working on something that you should be working on – if you’re in government, something that only government can do. If you’re in a business, something that is going to, if successful, help build a sustainable business.

Experimentation beats expertise

I found the design process utterly transformed once I decided to stop trying to be the expert and start trying to encourage a culture of experimentation.

Battles that would rage, angrily, for months – dying down when the provocateur was busy with other work but rising up as soon as they had a little time on their hands – these battles began to go away. Long frustrating and unproductive sessions of trying to explain, defend, rationalise why the design that I suggested had more merit than the many and varied suggestions (or requirements) coming from stakeholders all but disappeared. People who would usually sneer derisively at the design team became participating members of the design process.

It’s not perfect, it’s no silver bullet, but for me, it’s been a transformation.

And it’s pretty simple. To embrace experimentation you just need to stop talking about design in a Socratic way (other related but less civilised methods are also very common) and start formalising hypotheses and tests.

Stop having meetings to argue about which design approach is better  - endless meetings with stakeholders full of defensiveness and crazy arguments where the people who tend to win are those who are loudest, most persistent or highest paid. Start making decisions based on lightweight research that provides evidence (sometimes stories, sometimes numbers) to support the design that most strongly supports the agreed goals.

Goals. That’s one pre-requisite you need for this experimental approach to work. You need to have agreed what your goals are for the design. What success looks like. Without this agreement, no change to methodology will save you.

The experimental mindset is an egalitarian approach to design. It allows that anyone can suggest a design solutions and, rather than argue endlessly about whether it is better or worse than other approaches, you design a test. Find out how to find out which design works best.

Hypothesis, prototype, test.

There are loads of tools you can use to test ideas quickly – from some quick in person user research, to some A/B testing (if you’re not set up to do A/B testing, meet your friend Google Content Experiments and get onto this immediately), to an online card sort, to one of the range of tests that places like VerifyApp offer. The methods for testing are limited only by your creativity and are mostly inexpensive.

Sure, you can’t design from the ground up this way – you will still need a good designer that you trust get you to a good starting point from which you can experiment up, but once you’ve got the framework in place, don’t waste time and goodwill bickering about the details but encourage experimentation throughout the entire organisation. You’ll raise the overall ‘design IQ’ and happiness quotient of your company, your design team and, most probably, even yourself.

Cognitive Psychology UX Bootcamp Exercise: Killer Tips for writing a better blog post.

I’m writing this post while attending Cognitive Psychology UX Bootcamp. This is an exercise that we’ve been set to do and I’m working with Tara and Jerome of Ribot. This is the incredibly laymans version after half a day of the two day program so don’t take any of this too seriously. If you disagree with any of this, you can take it up with our Bootcamp trainer, Joe Leech:)

Tips we’ve learned so far:

  • Limit the line length to around 95 characters per line, allow plenty of space between lines, make sure the colour contrast is sufficient and be aware of the impact of colour choice and colour blindness
  • Aim for a reading age of around 10yrs (using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test), especially if your audience is multitasking
  • Write using upper and lower case unless you want people to read REALLY SLOWLLY  and find all your typos
  • Don’t put lots of flashing stuff in the peripheral view but also don’t rely on something animating to grab attention in my field of focus
  • Try to keep hyperlinks on the same line (not broken over two lines), and don’t put too many links off to other pages/sites if you want to keep people focused on your article (hyperlinks create a fixation point and draw attention)
  • If you want to look smart on your blog, include a photo of yourself that is closely cropped around your face. If you’d rather look less intelligent (and possibly more sexy), include a photo with more of your body in it (Note to self: get new profile photo).
  • Group similar things together, make use of established/known patterns.
  • Make sure any buttons are sufficiently large targets (ref: Fitts Law)
  • Encourage psychologists to do a lot more research about the effects of design on reading on the screen because there seems to be a lot of things we don’t really know for sure.