The bright face of iPhone parenting

The other day my 2 year old son suffered a surprising recurrence of separation anxiety.

Usually he waves me off to work for the day with a kiss and a hug but this morning he really didn’t want me to go.¬†

Something was different this time. In the past, it was me he was going to miss. This time he didn’t want me to take my iPhone away for the day.

Shock, horror! Toddler addicted to iPhone! Parent supervises children between tweeting and emailing! Technology is so evil, right?

Well, you tell me. The reason he didn’t want me to go to work with my iPhone is because he had such a great time the previous evening learning about numbers and letters thanks to the great applications from Montessorium. (No, I’m not on commission – I just love, love, love their applications and the amazing learning experience they’ve provided for my son).

Old School, meet New School

My son has been using my iPhone since he was about 8 months old. Firstly to listen to nursery rhymes (he now knows and sings more songs that I ever knew, including the second verse of Twinkle Twinkle – who even knew it existed!), he has great fine motor skills honed by playing with Peekaboo Barn (his first iPhone application), later followed by a selection of the great apps by Duck Duck Moose (we started with Wheels on the Bus but our current favourite is Itsy Bitsy Spider). My son can find The Wiggles, Pingu and Peppa Pig episodes on YouTube on the iPhone unaided (although, I hasten to add, not unsupervised).

It’s been with these Montessorium applications that I’ve really been in awe of the power of technology, good design and passionate teachers as I’ve watched my son, already quite interested in numbers and letters, become almost obsessed with them.

Not only does he only ever want to play ‘the numbers game’ or ‘the letters game’ on my phone, the whole world has become his playground as he’s suddenly found himself surrounded by numbers and letters that mean and do different things and create all kinds of new meanings in his life.

Meet him this week and there’s every chance he’ll ask you ‘what’s your number?’ (code for: how old are you – we’re still working on manners!) or ‘what’s your letter?’ (which means, what letter does your name start with).

Better still, as the apps are aimed at children slightly older than him, he needs help with parts of them, creating a beautiful opportunity for social learning mediated by my iPhone.

Everyday he’s creating a more compelling use case for me to buy an iPad without waiting for the second generation to be released. And, as I have a second son rapidly approaching the 8 month mark, he’s also creating a compelling reason for my husband to ‘need’ an iPhone – have two boys, need two iPhones.

Sure, everyday I try to be disciplined about not constantly checking email and Twitter over the heads of my children but I’ve found that by relinquishing the device to the kids and letting them become addicted to learning, it seems to work out very well for all of us.

UX Intern Opportunity – exciting 1 week intensive project

In the week of 11 October, I’m going to be working on a really exciting project with the team from StartHere, Andrew Travers and Mark Boulton.

We’re going to be working on a highly collaborative, intensive project that will involve a stack of sketching, strategising, experimenting, designing, wireframing, prototyping, researching, iterating and testing.

We’d think this is a unique opportunity for someone new to User Experience to join us for a few days as an intern. You provide an extra set of UX hands and we’ll provide you with a more project experience in a week than you’d get in a weeks and weeks of a ‘normal’ project. (For the sake of absolute clarity: we won’t provide you with any payment for the week, but we will provide you with lunch/snacks/tea/coffee etc.)

Sound interesting?

If you’re available in that week, relatively new to UX and passionate about learning more and improving your craft please email¬†[email protected] and convince us that this is a good idea!

Update: for anyone thinking – ‘that sounds good, I’ll send an email later’ – here’s a deadline to motivate you – we’ll need to decide that we’re definitely doing this and who we’re doing it with by 1 October so we’ll need your email by Weds 29 September.

Empathy – Essential Soft Skills for User Experience Practitioners

The other day I was reading Donna Spencer’s excellent book A Practical Guide to Information Architecture. Early on in the book she runs through a list of skills that she things help most with Information Architecture work, and I was struck by what she chose to write about first – empathy.

Donna says:

The person creating the IA must genuinely care about understanding the people who will use the site, and be willing to represent their needs (and go into bat for them when the pressure is on).

I think there is a very important nuance in what Donna has written here. Notice that she doesn’t just say ‘it’s important that you try to understand the people who will use the site’ but rather that you ‘genuinely care about understanding’ them.

Look for definitions of empathy and one word comes up repeatedly – feelings.

As UX practitioners, we seem to be on a constant drive to validate our work with number, processes, techniques, deliverables. This is all very important, and let’s continue to do that. But don’t let’s think that identifying pain points in a user journey through site usage analysis is the same as actually witnessing someone experiencing that pain.

Let’s not become caught up in simply designing to achieve numerical goals associated with user behaviour. Rather, let’s design to see the smile that spreads broadly over someone’s face when they’re able to achieve something they didn’t think possible, when they feel empowered, when the design surprises them in a good way, when it delights them.

If you don’t genuinely care about the people who are going to use whatever it is you are working for, then perhaps you need to ask whether you should be working on that project. Perhaps you need a holiday, perhaps you need a new job, perhaps you’re not actually cut out to be a UX person after all, perhaps you just need to do some more user research work.

Genuinely caring – having real empathy – is something that can’t be taught, but it is something that we can allow, encourage and validate for ourselves and our UX peers.

So, let’s do the work we need to do to gain the understanding we need, and then let’s be properly empathetic – let’s really care about those people we’re designing for. It will make you a better designer, and it will also makes the world a whole lot more interesting when you can see it, richly, from so many different perspectives.

Adaptability – Essential Soft Skills for User Experience Practitioners

As User Experience practitioners, we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the skills we don’t have or have enough of and trying to acquire them.

I don’t hear a lot about the soft skills that, in my opinion, are probably more important than all of the CSS, sketching & typography skills you seek so I thought I’d contribute a short series on some of my favourite soft skills, starting with this on on adaptability.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

- Charles Darwin

Best Practice is a concept that you hear of frequently but very rarely see because very few projects are actually appropriate for ‘best practice’. What most projects need is the best possible practice you can fit in to the constraints of the project you’re faced with. There are usually many constraints.

Typical constraints include a lack of time, budget, people, data, cooperation, interest, and understanding of UX.

You can spend your time battling to remove these constraints – sometimes this is appropriate but usually it is not only fruitless but also places you further behind than when you started. Usually, the best thing to do is to sit down and work out what is the best you can do within these constraints and get started.

Adaptability is about understanding and respecting that, for your client, UX is usually one of many priorities they need to balance. It’s about responding to the environment you find yourself in, building the best process, employing the best techniques you can in the best way you can within the constraints you’ve been given. It’s about doing your job entirely differently for almost every project.

Adaptability is about knowing that you’re not doing things the best possible way but, against the odds, you’re getting them done well enough. It’s about being creative. It’s about remaining aware of the corners you’re cutting and factoring them into the analysis.

Adaptability makes User Experience accessible to all projects.

How to be more adaptable:

  • DO be as familiar as you can with as many different UX techniques as possible – read, listen, talk to your peers, be active in the incredibly sharing global UX network
  • DON’T be precious, or a stickler for process. Don’t expect people to drop everything to do things your way (or the way it says in the book)
  • DO keep doing research
  • DON’T sacrifice time to do analysis and lots of design exploration (sketch!)
  • DO make sure you’re constantly focussed on the end goal – what are you trying to achieve? What is the goal of the redesign you’re doing to that page? What is the goal of that research activity? (Demonstrable victories often buy you more time/budget/participation for future projects)
  • DON’T do it alone – share your process with the team and skill them up to assist, look for ways to work together to save time
  • DO cut corners – interview less people, recruit less fussily, spend less time, prototype more roughly.
  • DON’T forget which corners you’ve cut and why – factor this into your analysis, educate your team on what would have been a more ideal approach
  • DO be creative – experiment, try different approaches and see what works, make up new ways to solve problems (and share them back with us!)

Please share your thoughts on how to be more adaptive as a UXer, and also the other soft skills you think a great UX practitioner needs.

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