UX Survey – what we care about when we’re taking a new job

I’m taking a couple of surveys to explore our priorities and experiences hiring and being hired as UXers.

If you’re a UXer: Come tell me what you think about when you think about taking a new job.

If you hire UXers:  Here’s a survey for you

This came out of an interesting exchange on Twitter the other day with a colleague who posted a Tweet about job opportunities at his company and promoting the opportunity to work on big brands if you worked with him.

He also has an awesome team working with him. I suggested to him perhaps he should be promoting that as well or instead.

I got to wondering (again) how how other people saw the world – what was important to UXers when they were thinking about a new job and what the process was like for finding, interviewing and taking a new job.

Being a good UXer, it was only logical to take the next step and do some research.

I’ll collate the results and share them back in a few weeks.

Thanks!

Designing for illiteracy – a mass market accessibility challenge

I was in Chicago the other week and out with a friend who has multiple, severe dietary allergies. She can’t eat dairy, eggs, wheat, and a bunch of other stuff. Eating out is a bit of a pain for her but, if she doesn’t get it right, a whole lot more pain later.

We were in one of those posh grocery stores with its own little cafe and, after much deliberation, decided what to eat. The girl who was taking our order had a desk that was positioned in a way that made it easy for me to look over her shoulder at the interface she was using to take the order.

Taking a standard order was pretty easy – you just pressed the button that said ‘thai chicken salad’. Simple.

Then it came time to take my friend’s order. First she had to press the button that said ‘thai chicken salad’ and then my friend asked that she make a special note for the chef about her allergies. To do this, the girl had to press the notes button and then type the special request in. No assistance from the UI whatsoever. And that’s when the trouble struck. Spelling.

Without wanting to ridicule her – she failed to spell ‘dairy’ even to the point that you might guess what she intended. There was no way she was ever going to accurately convey my friends requirements to the chef. I watched, quietly, as she tried and failed to type the instructions and eventually sent the following note through to the chef:

‘eg’

Here’s the thing. Our order taker is far from an edge case. Jonathan Kozol has written extensively about illiteracy in the US (and there are similar problems in many parts of the world). He says:

Twenty-five million American adults cannot read the poison warnings on a can of pesticide, a letter from their child’s teacher, or the front page of a daily paper. An additional 35 million read only at a level which is less than equal to the full survival needs of our society.

Together, these 60 million people represent more than one third of the entire adult population.

The largest numbers of illiterate adults are white, native-born Americans. In proportion to population, however, the figures are higher for blacks and Hispanics than for whites. Sixteen percent of white adults, 44 percent of blacks, and 56 percent of Hispanic citizens are functional or marginal illiterates. Figures for the younger generation of black adults are increasing. Forty-seven percent of all black seventeen-year olds are functionally illiterate. That figure is expected to climb to 50 percent by 1990.

Fifteen percent of recent graduates of urban high schools read at less than sixth grade level. One million teenage children between t velve and seventeen percent cannot read above the third grade level. Eighty-five percent of juveniles who come before the courts are functionally illiterate. Half the heads of households classified below the poverty line by federal standards cannot read an eighth grade book. Over one third of mothers who receive support from welfare are functionally illiterate. Of 8 million unemployed adults, 4 to 6 million lack the skills to be retrained for hi-tech jobs. (more here)

This is a big problem. This is not an edge case. And, before you say it, the answer is not icons. (The number of times people have told me that the solution to designing for an illiterate audience is icons. Now make me an icon for ‘vegan’).

I don’t have the solution, but I do have a couple of guiding thoughts.

  • People are better at recognising words than they are at making them from scratch. My 3yr old can recognise words in books that he is familiar with but he can’t read (no matter what he tells you). This is true for all of us. Recognition is far easier than recall. Think about foreign languages – most of us can read a lot more than we can speak, right?
  • Think about mission critical tasks. Things that, if not done right, could hurt people or have significant negative impact on people or business. Don’t give people a blank box to fill in when you’re designing these tasks. Give options (in words, not icons). Let people recognise and select, don’t make them remember how to spell stuff.

Jan Chipchase has done a lot of design research work with Nokia in the area of device design for illiterate end users and supports the view that making the interface easy to ‘learn’ (which largely means ‘remember’ for people who are less literate), is the best approach – better than icons or audio menus or all other apparently obvious solutions.

This presentation is worth a flip through if you’re interested in his experience and outcomes.

 

None of this is new, granted. But it’s not something I hear us talking about anywhere near enough. Watching that poor girl struggle with that interface and because of the poor design put my friend’s health at risk was a real wake up call and reminder to me of how wide-spread and significant this issue is.

I’m resolving to be more aware of this in the future and I hope you will to.

(And, if you’re in the UK, consider signing the Save Bookstart petition – this invaluable service puts books into the hands of young children – having books in the house in childhood is a key indicator of later literacy).

The Prairie Initiative – A Social Architecture Project for Drupal.org

I’m excited to be making a start on my current contribution to Drupal which to help drive a project code named Prairie. This is a project with two big, ambitious goals:

1. to improve the collaboration tools on Drupal.org so that we can do more and better work together and make Drupal better, faster.

2. to make Drupal.org a better and easier place to become a contributor – to make it less intimidating to people who want to get started contributing to Drupal, coders and non-coders. To increase the number of Drupal.org members who are actively contributing and to recognise a wider range of contributions.

This started out as a ‘Redesign the Issue Queue’ core conversation at Drupalcon in Chicago, but rapidly increased in scope so that it’s now really more accurately described as a Social Architecture project.

For those amongst us who are actively contributing Drupallers, comfortable with the Drupal Groups infrastructure, there’s a group you can join and contribute to.

For those who find the Groups Infrastructure perplexing or just plain frustrating (and you can count me among that number – you’ll find Groups Usability as part of the scope for this project), I’m going to try to keep you up to speed here and I’m experimenting with sharing some screenshots that we can annotate together… we’ll see how well that works – at any rate, I do want to try to open the discussion up outside of the Groups infrastructure so that we’re not just a bunch of insiders talking amongst ourselves.

The issue page – Designing a tool to fit the task

So the first thing I’d love for you to give some attention to are some initial ideas on redesigning the Issue template.

The ideas in this rough wireframe draw heavily from Quora and Open Ideo and try to address opportunities for us to make our discussion more comprehensible and focussed, as well as to make sure that they move through the stages of problem solving (possibly with custom designed interfaces for the specific requirements of each phase) to make it easier to ‘call in the troops’ from the various disciplines when they’re required and also to create spaces that are more appropriate for each discipline in turn (rather than all trying to squash our requirements into the one UI). It also introduces the concept of collaboratively naming an issue and providing a summary for it.

You can take a look and provide your feedback on this wireframe and these ideas here (or in the group if you prefer).

For those who are wondering, no, I’m not being paid to do this work. I’m a freelancer, so I have to take time off consulting, playing with my kids or sleeping to do this work.

I’d happily take sponsorship to do so though, if you think the work is important enough for me to be able to dedicate more of my time to working on it. Let me know if you’re interested.

Making a more engaging UK UPA

UPA Affinity Sort

Having been a vocal critic of the UK UPA in the past (by which I mean the organisation and it’s activities over the past five years not the current or recently past committee), I was really pleased to be invited to facilitate a workshop or two at their March event ‘Crowdsourcing the future of the UK UPA’.

There were a wide range of workshops held that evening, the one I was facilitating was focused on gathering and prioritising concepts that the UK UPA could act on which would make it feel like a professional organisation that we felt more aligned with and wanted more to be a part of. There were two workshops and the participants included UPA stalwarts and newbies, UXers and ergonomists, people from London and beyond.

The workshop used an incredibly rapid fire KJ Technique formed of individually listing items relating to how engaging the UK UPA was/was not for us and why that was so, followed by a quick post up and affinity sort, dot vote for issues we felt most strongly about.

Both workshops were characterised by a mixture of frustration and an energetic desire to be more involved and for the UK UPA to continue to grow and be an influential voice and resource for people who are currently active or interested in usability.

Aggregated Priorities
Once we aggregated the issues that most resonated across the two groups, the following priorities emerged:

1. Let us contribute: It was noted that the activity that the UK UPA is able to achieve is limited by the time that the committed yet otherwise busy committee members are able to contribute. There was an almost universal desire for members to be able to contribute meaningfully – whether by contributing content, updating the website, setting up Special Interest Groups that could hold their own events, and many other ways.

This requires the UPA giving up a little control – the current model of ‘tell us you want to help and we’ll delegate something to you’ sucks the enthusiasm and motivation out of even the most committed UPA fan. The net benefit would be a much more active association achieving a lot more for and with it’s membership, and a greater sense of involvement and community amongst the membership.

2. Teaching people who are new to usability: there was a general perception that the UPA could play a big role in educating people about what usability is, what usability work entails and why this might be a rewarding career option for young people and career changers. There was a particular passion for outreach into schools but also for providing tools to help educate colleagues with other specialties.

3. Have an opinion: participants also expressed the desire the the UPA have an authoritative voice on matters relating to usability, particularly high profile and particularly contentious issues. People wanted to be able to turn to the UPA to see what they thought about things.

4. Different event formats: participants also expressed the desire to mix up the event formats a little so there was less ‘lecturing’ and  more participation – debates, design jams, social events were suggested as options. Special Interest Groups were also mentioned in both workshops.

5. Learning more by sharing our experience: The ability to talk to each other, as members of the UPA and attendees at the events was something that participants would value – both online and offline. People wanted to be able to ‘find each other’ online after an event and continue conversations. An emphasis of events and content that showed real practice was also valued.

6. More friendly: Some participants noted that attending the events could be quite scary and intimidating and that more could be done to help alleviate this, also to help facilitate networking between participants. Some participants noted that they had attended several UPA events but not actually made any more connections with usability professionals as a result. (Related to points 4 and 5 above)

7. Who is the UPA? Participants wanted the UPA to more clearly articulate the position it wanted to occupy with our profession and the role it wanted to play and consequently, what our expectations should be. Development of a clear ‘value proposition’ or mission statement for the association.

8. More than just UX As a part of her introduction to the evening Chandra Harrison, current president of the UKUPA went to some lengths to make it clear to us that the UPA is about more than just usability. She may actually have gone so far as to provide the value proposition that people were looking for (ref: point 7 above) when she talked about the UPA being the organisation that brings together people from across all kinds of industries and professions who have an interest in making all kinds of things easier and better to use.

As it happens, participants (particularly in one group) found this a very appealing proposition and wished that they actually saw more content from across these various professions/practices as a part of the events program, more participation from people outside of UX at the events and more content helping us to understand the similarities and differences that are experienced across these audiences.

What’s next?

Another thing that Chandra made very clear in her introduction was that the committee are very time poor and already working very hard on projects for the UPA and that – although they were pleased to be holding this event and inviting ideas – they were not able to commit in any way to moving forward on any of the points that came out of the event. I understand from talking to members of the committee that many of the issues raised above are in the process of being tackled right now and, as it happens, by addressing the first one on this list, this problem actually starts to go away a little (although, no doubt, it also introduces a few more challenges).

Attending another UPA meeting confirmed for me though that actually achieving these objectives is going to require more than just a series of committee led initiatives, it’s going to require significant cultural change.

I’m optimistic that the very fact that events like this can take place under the auspices of the UPA is reason for us to have hope.

Why bother? Why do I care?

You may not identify as a usability professional. I don’t either. But we’re not the only ones who get a say in this. As long as other people look at what you do and call it usability (and you know a lot of people do), then this is our professional association.

Call yourself what you will, the way the UPA conducts it self is a reflection on anyone who rightfully or wrongfully gets lumped under the usability banner.

As long as this is the case, I want an association that I can be proud of. That demonstrates good usability practice in the way it presents itself online, that doesn’t feel completely out of touch with contemporary practice – UX, Ergonomics, whatever else you do that is affiliated with usability. I have enough on my plate trying to fight the good fight with people who don’t know any better, I should be able to count on the UPA to support me in this, not to undermine me.

So, this means that I’ll be critical. Constructively so wherever I can.

But it also means that if you want me to help out – and not just as someone you can delegate some tasks to, but on something that can actually properly make use of my experience, passion and abilities – then the UPA is welcome to call on me. As they did last week.

I hope you care too. And I hope the UPA can do exactly what it apparently wants to do – bring together people from all different professional circumstances who care about usability so we can learn more and do better and make this a better world to live in.

And on that evangelical note… why not go check out some more photos from the crowdsourcing night.