Feb 25, 2014

No One Owns UX. Everyone Owns UX.

I returned from a UX conference a few years back resisting the urge to change my title to UX designer — but also wondering why I shouldn’t. Someone has to drive the effort, right? Someone has to own it.

Everyone owns UX.

Each piece of the development puzzle seeks to improve the user’s experience.

The order in which feature requests are prioritized impact the user’s experience.

We write requirements to paint a clear picture of an improved user experience.

We run through a few rounds of design mockups, and we evaluate the speed at which the code finally operates, as well as the error handling created by the development team, to improve the user’s experience.

As a designer, I’ve learned that my role is not to solve problems, but to help facilitate their solving. While I am the first to form a tactical approach based on a set of requirements, I don’t own the solution — I contribute to it. Our team is humming when a developer and I work side by side to bring a concept to life; we poke, prod, step back, evaluate, nod, frown, reassess, brainstorm, and begin again.

A subtle yet critical shift routinely occurs between the mockup and the markup. I like to get to the markup quickly because that lets us fail quickly. Said another way, we can quickly see if we’ve succeeded.

We can see if we’ve succeeded.

No one owns UX; everyone owns UX.

Dec 17, 2013

Ship, Day 12: 12 Days of Ideas

Ship

This is the twelfth post in the series 12 Days of Ideas: Building & Marketing Web Products.
Illustrated by Krista Seidl

Fortunately I think terms like ‘pixel-perfect’ are on the way out.

We’re all working to perfect our product, but that doesn’t mean we’ll ever create a perfect product. The perfect is the enemy of the good. I’ve heard this phrase a million times, and it’s true.

That said, there is a wide range of product quality between ‘perfect’ and ‘good’. So when in doubt, ship.

“No tasks longer than one week. You have to ship something into live production every week – worst case, two weeks.”
— Naval Ravikant, Build a Team that Ships

That post made my palms sweaty the first time I read it. This seems overly dogmatic, I remember thinking. What about taking time to put the idea in front of some users? What about jumping up and down on it in staging for awhile?

Or, what about getting it into production (possibly visible to your team only) to see how it works and feels? We have a new dashboard sitting behind a hidden URL for this very reason. I love working this way. It’s fast, it’s instructive, and it’s not going to upset any users who feel surprised by it.

Then again, it’s just sitting there. We should probably ship it.

“If you’re at the helm of a young company preparing for a launch, don’t. Roll out what you have today to the appropriate users. Get them to love what you’re building.”
— LayerVault, The Launch is Dead

It helps to accept that the approach you’re implementing won’t be a silver bullet to the problem you’re attempting to solve:

“No solution will be without a little harm. The best we can do is keep it to a minimum.”
— Sandy Weisz, An Engineer Embraces Design

This is incredibly liberating news! You are free to ship something that might not be perfect.

“It’s not perfect. We ship too many features, many half-baked. The product is complex, with many blind alleys. It’s hard to integrate non-engineers – they aren’t valued.

“But, we ship.”
— Naval Ravikant, Build a Team that Ships

Dec 16, 2013

Focus on the Right Priorities, Day 11: 12 Days of Ideas

Focus on the Right Priorities

This is the eleventh post in the series 12 Days of Ideas: Building & Marketing Web Products.
Illustrated by Krista Seidl

My coworkers and I spent a lot of time this year reviewing and revising our product roadmap. We discussed the best way to add features and adjust their priority over time. We wanted to remain flexible, to tackle important items as they surfaced.

And then I read this:

“It’s always good to be working on two things: The next most important thing and the next most interesting thing.”
— Jason Fried, Two i’s

Almost everything on our roadmap skews toward the important end of that spectrum. “We really need…”, “Our customers have regularly asked for…”, “This feature could really stand to be…”.

That isn’t to say that these tasks aren’t interesting at the same time, but often the next project in the pipeline is a labor of necessity. Hopefully the problem solving interests us because the technology and the product interest us.

Jason’s post reminded me that you simply can’t hope that important things interest your team.

After reading the post, I asked our developers: If you had two weeks to do whatever you wanted with the product, and no one would bother you during that time, what would you do?

As you can expect, their responses were nowhere near the top of the roadmap — but all of the projects we discussed would add value to the product. Even better, they’d keep the team engaged and energized.

Sometimes important is all you have time to tackle. Many/most times there aren’t two weeks to let a developer disappear into a project that might never be justified by business needs.

But there should be.

I’m reminded of Stephen Covey’s time management matrix from ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’:

Covey Time Management Matrix

We spend most of our time in life and work in quadrants I, III and IV. We routinely neglect quadrant II, but that’s where some of the most valuable things come to life.

Recognizing the importance of the interesting is the first way to ensure that you carve out time for it. To keep people engaged, allow innovation to pop up from unexpected quarters. The product and the company will be better for it.

Dec 13, 2013

Fail Quickly, Day 10: 12 Days of Ideas

Fail Quickly

This is the tenth post in the series 12 Days of Ideas: Building & Marketing Web Products.
Illustrated by Krista Seidl

Much ink has been spilled on the topic of failure this year, and I can’t get enough.

Failure is scary, inevitable, and endlessly instructive. I’d rather succeed, but I learn more from my mistakes. All the attention currently being paid to this subject helps me squash the fear of failing. I need to embrace it, expect it, even plan for it.

“I think we need failure to keep us adhered to our proper path.”
— Brad Smith, The Great Discontent

“Pixar’s in-house theory is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process, so get right down to it and start making them.”
— Hugo Lindgren, Be Wrong as Fast as You Can

I love that idea. Start making mistakes immediately. It must become okay to be wrong in our work; ideally you’re surrounded by people who expect it.

“Give people opportunities, cultivate talent, and let people fail while still supporting them. It’s the only way you learn… But people need to be allowed to do that to learn.”
— Gmunk, The Great Discontent

Too often I’ve gnashed my teeth worrying about producing something that might fail. It’s refreshing to think about anticipating and learning from failing, to work without the fear of having chosen the wrong idea, the doomed path. If we can get down those paths quickly and with a little help from our friends, we’ll be on to better things. As one of my favorite pastors writing today puts it:

“Putting one foot ahead of the other is the best way to survive disillusionment, because the real danger is not the territory itself but getting stuck in it.”
— Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life

Substitute ‘failure’ for ‘disillusionment’, and the idea is the same. Keep working, fail quickly, and move on.

Dec 12, 2013

Be Patient: Day 9, 12 Days of Ideas

Be Patient

This is the ninth post in the series 12 Days of Ideas: Building & Marketing Web Products.
Illustrated by Krista Seidl

“Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.”
— Jeff Bezos, Bezos on Washington Post: ‘I’m Not a Magician’

Warning: this post involves a football analogy.

Succeeding in this industry involves a lot of waiting. We wait to launch a product until it’s ready (enough) for customers. Or, we’ve launched, and we’re waiting for traction. Traction achieved, now we’re waiting for funding. Now we’re waiting for the hockey stick of user growth. Now we’re waiting for press. Fame. Fortune.

It just takes so long.

“If your customers are saying you have something and you have some growth, then over time (possibly a long and challenging time), the math of SaaS usually works out in your favor.”
— Gail Goodman, Notes & Summary of Gail Goodman’s The Long Slow SaaS Ramp Of Death

A long and challenging time.

I try to remember that success isn’t an all-or-nothing, ‘you have arrived’ moment. It’s a matter of small degrees. There are distracting exceptions, particularly in this industry. We read and write endlessly about young, hot companies like Buffer and Snapchat, but these are outliers, distractions, showboats. They’re wide receivers snagging a ball thrown 40 yards downfield, making the march to the end zone seem like a piece of cake.

More of us are running backs. We take the ball and crash into the competition, searching for an opening. We fight for each and every yard. Sometimes we break through and sometimes we’re pushed back ten yards. If we can pick up five yards, that is success. The end zone is our destination, but it isn’t the sole indication of achievement. That’s easy to forget. We want to be great, immediately.

But yet:

“The only path to amazing runs directly through not-yet-amazing.”
— Seth Godin, Overcoming the Impossibility of Amazing

The first version of a new feature will need improvement. The fourth version will need improvement. That feature may need to be shelved for a different feature. The new feature might not be received the way you thought it would. And on and on. A long and challenging time. Only one way to get through it.

Dec 11, 2013

Keep Customers to Make Customers: Day 8, 12 Days of Ideas

Keep Customers to Make Customers

This is the eighth post in the series 12 Days of Ideas: Building & Marketing Web Products.
Illustrated by Krista Seidl

It’s so easy to get focused on conversion rates, but gaining customers is pointless if you’re losing those same customers three months later.

Earlier this year I ran across a killer post about retention by Jerry Jao that caused me to spend a little less time obsessing about our conversion rate, and more time watching our retention rate.

Here are my key takeaways:

Existing customers are repeat customers.
Existing customers already like your product, and ideally they like your company as well. What do you have in the pipeline to sell to them? Re-acquire these customers with new products, features or services.

You’re no longer courting customers, you’re maintaining a relationship.
Existing customers have bought into your premise; they’ve purchased your product, or hired your services. Hopefully they have a positive feeling about you. You’re living up to the promise you made to win them over, so now it’s time to do the things that make your relationship with them special.

“When you see our strange billboards that don’t even say our name, or when you see our random “high five” shirts, vinyl toys, or hear ridiculous radio ads, just know that they defy logic because they’re for our existing customers. We’re not going for new leads, let alone conversions…. We’re going for customer service. Which, by the way, leads to leads.”
— Ben Chestnut, Why I Hate Funnels

Customers talk.
Happy customers tell people about your product. Of course, so do unhappy customers. So it’s a good use of your time to keep your active customers in the former camp. From the CMO post:

“A study showed that satisfied customers tell nine other people about their positive experience, while dissatisfied customers are likely to talk about their negative experience with 22 other people.”
— Jerry Jao, Customer Retention Should Outweigh Customer Acquisition

Clearly retention is a major indicator of long-term success, and we should spend more time looking at the people on our accounts list instead of looking wistfully at those who aren’t. It turns out that one leads to the other.