Emotional Intelligence at the center of UX

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Logic meet Inspiration

Emotional Intelligence, in the world of psychology, is a relatively new concept, but EI, or sometimes EQ – Emotional Quotient, is at the center of the user experience. Some folks might think that this is crazy or an extreme extrapolation, but follow me, here… If you look at Daniel Goleman’s Five Components of Emotional Intelligence it’s not a leap to see them as the center of UX:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Internal motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

I’ve talked about all of these areas in various posts before:

In fact, emotional intelligence is at the core of the USAGE UX and Usability blog; it’s a constant that runs through all of my thinking, writing and practicing of UX. I’m reminded of the Carlos Castadena quote: “All paths are the same, leading nowhere. Therefore, pick a path with heart!” Or put another way after years of being a designer, manager, etc… A sense of purpose arose out of UX for me, a sense of purpose borne of empathy and emotional intelligence that led towards ‘a path with heart.’

So, when I talk about emotional intelligence being at the center of UX, it’s not just at the center of UX in a practical way regarding the discipline of UX, but it’s also the cornerstone of my personal journey and what’s driven me to undertake this work. I think there are a lot of UX folks who feel this way.

This an unusual post, to be sure, because the only really practical point I make is the connection of UX to emotional intelligence. Maybe that’s enough, for some, maybe not enough for others… It feels slightly inadequate to me, but also important to the ongoing narrative of UX, its growth and its development. We’re actively developing the future of UX as a discipline and as a practice; I find that both an exciting and challenging, because the need for this discipline is so clear, but the challenge is not just changing minds and old practices, but ultimately changing behavior; fortunately this is a path with heart.

The problem with “intuitive” design

 

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Over the years I’ve talked with many people about creating intuitive designs, making something user friendly, usable, even, in the contexts of websites, apps and products. However, the idea of ‘intuitive’ presupposes that one person is able to nail, completely, what is or is not intuitive without any user perspective. Sure, we can can make some basic deductions about a user experience or user expectations based on what we think we know about a user, but really the smallest bit of scrutiny given to the idea of making something intuitive, makes the entire idea fall apart.

Intuition is based on past experience, conscious or unconscious, cumulatively, and determines some level of expectations.

My ability to pick up an iPad, and “intuitively” complete a task will make much more sense to me than if Benjamin Franklin picked up an iPad and tried to complete the same task. I understand user interfaces. I’ve been steeped in a world of human-computer interaction, it’s a modality for the completion of tasks that I understand. Similarly, old Ben Franklin would be much more adept at lighting, servicing and maintaining a whale-oil lamp than I ever could be. My intuitive iPad is not his intuitive whale-oil lamp. Our experiences and our particular epochs are radically different, so, too, what is intuitive is different.

In order to create something that’s intuitive to your users, you have to meet your users where they’re at. How are they using the design? Where are they using the design? When are they using the design? What tasks are they trying to complete? How do they feel about past iterations of yours or a comparable design for completing the same tasks.

The problem with intuitive design is that it’s not really about intuition at all, but about researching your users, their goals, their biases and generally who they are to determine what the best design solution is for them.

Asking for an intuitive design is a cop out.

Do the work and create the design your audience needs.

Apple had Steve Jobs… UX is for the rest of us…

user_experience_wheelUser-Experience-Wheel

You can’t have it both ways. I mean, you might want to have it both ways, you might think that having it both ways, with some finagling, is possible, even though you know that one might, inevitably, cancel the other out, still you can’t have it both ways.

I’m thinking about something I used to tell clients when doing design work, web or print…  I used to tell them about the ‘wants triangle’… that’s what I called it, somebody with a PhD in economics probably came up with it, but I heard it somewhere, picked it up and made it my own. It went something like this: ‘You can have it quick, you can have it cheap, you can have it good… but you can’t have all three, you have to pick two…’

Now, my argument about wanting both is binary, whereas this equation wasn’t. In both cases, though, client/organization/boss had to make a choice. And decisions, for the majority of us upright bipeds, are things of the greatest difficulty.

So, you can’t have it both ways.

That’s the preface.

When we talk about having it both ways what we’re talking about is making the choice between choosing to adopt UX practices or not.

At this point, not adopting UX if you make websites, software, or really any product that somebody has to use, which, I guess, is almost everything from dishwashers to urinal pucks doesn’t make a lot of sense. Admittedly, safety was never a primary concern for most automobile manufacturers, and when safety standards were finally adopted, these rules had to be foisted upon automotive manufacturers; hard to imagine, now, I know, but alas, that was the case… Cars and safety belts go together like peanut butter and jelly. Similarly, the discipline of UX is kind of inseparable from the reality that users are going to use your stuff… so why not include them in the design process of the thing you’re making. Capital idea!

And yet…

You can’t have it both ways. Well, not exactly, but with maturity you can get pretty close.

I’m talking about the initial adoption and investment in UX, which does slow down the traditional process of the CEO or CMO telling you what kind of website or product they want and telling you to go and make it. The discipline of UX builds in layers that could be construed as slowing things down, but really this investment takes the risk out of something not working or being a flop when it eventually gets released or goes to market… the visionary CEO or CMO’s approach doesn’t. Admittedly, they’ll take the hit (sometimes), but it’s  a huge waste and a bummer to bet the farm on single person’s idea.

Achtung! Or, warning!, for our non-German speakers… In the cult of Steve Jobs, of which there are many supplicants, the idea of being a CEO, CMO or product person that has both business acumen and a strong vision is a very common occurrence, in some ways it feels like a plague… Business acumen, you can learn, vision, on par with Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney and Steve Jobs, uhh… yeah, not so much. Is it genius? I don’t know. There was something going on with these folks, their particular epochs, their experiences and also their locations on history’s timeline, intersecting with technology, curiosity, creativity and sheer force of will… the likes of which can’t be manufactured, thus making the likelihood of running into someone like this or your CEO being one of these people very, very slim. Which brings us back to UX.

UX is for the rest of us, i.e. most of us. UX takes practice, organization and structure, that’s why it’s called a discipline. That’s what is so enduring about it. It’s not a quick shot or injection that will make everything good. It’s transformative and transformation is hard; it’s change. It’s putting the users in charge of the design instead of the CEO, CMO or chief whatever officer… where it should be.

This is what I mean when I say you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a mature UX practice and process in place without putting in the work. You can’t remove the risk of bad design without a mature UX practice.

You can’t have it both ways.

There’s no shortcut to a mature UX practice.
There’s no shortcut for good design.
There’s a symbiosis where each needs the other.

You need these two things for UX success

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User experience, like any change, can take a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of persistence. Even in those instances when preparation and opportunity intersect change isn’t easy.  I’m talking about UX, but I could be talking about organizational change of any kind. Sometimes, I feel like this is a perspective that comes with age, something that my younger self, wouldn’t have wanted to hear, but my more seasoned self knows as a fact and embraces accordingly.

In order to be successful with UX, you need to put the energy in and you need to be persistent.

The energy comes in many forms. It’s your passion, it’s your vision, it’s your need to share the idea of UX and push the change forward against bureaucracy and those who aren’t willing to accept any change, and those who feel like you’re presenting hurdles, or unnecessary steps when the old way of doing things will do… But you know that UX isn’t just necessary, it’s important to an organization’s ability to change and grow, and perhaps, most importantly, it’s the right thing for your users.

This is where the second part comes in, because without this one, all of the energy in the world doesn’t matter.

Persistence.

Energy without persistent direction will be put into something else when you want to give up, when you get sick of putting the energy in and getting no positive feedback, no return on time and years of your life invested in the change.

Energy and persistence are the 1-2 punch that no change, no matter how great, can resist. Admittedly, this may seem like an over-simplification as change comes in many shapes and sizes, but at the core, if you can persist and direct your energy accordingly you will make great strides as an agent of change.

Change takes time; Pace yourself, treat yourself well and don’t forget the goal. Remember that change is a marathon not a sprint, and today’s setbacks could be tomorrow’s opportunities to stop, reflect and make course corrections. I wish I had somebody to give me this advice as I embarked on changing organizations, but hopefully I can help somebody in a way that would have helped me by writing down these lines.

When you combine energy and persistence UX change isn’t just possible, it’s inevitable.

 

Don’t lose your UX to edge cases

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Vital to any user experience are the use cases, but sometimes, it is possible to overthink the design, the product, the software, the website, etc… We’re natural born problem solvers, so when we get in that state of mind it’s easy to find a lot of problems that need solving. The problem here is that we can lose ourselves and our user focus in edge cases.

Edge cases are important and play a vital role in determining how outliers and users in the minority might use your design, but we have to play to the 80/20 design rule: Focusing on the needs of 80% of your users.

That’s not to say that we don’t keep track of that 20% minority, or that we don’t capture use cases and put them in our product backlog, but we can’t prioritize edge cases as if they’re critical to making a design “complete”, when they ultimately prolong the shipping of the design.

Shipping the design gets us valuable user input that’s key to a product evolution and refinement, so getting lost in edge cases not only compromises the timeline, but ultimately focusing on edge cases compromises the user experience for the majority of users.

Focus on the needs of the majority of users, apply the 80/20 rule and design the user experience for the majority of users.

Meet me there… UX design and the user environment

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User experience design requires an empathic, user-centered design perspective.

You have to meet people where they’re at.

Once you’ve completed your user interviews, and finished your personas, use-cases and journey maps, you have to really get inside the mind of the user.

One of the most difficult tasks of the UX designer is trying to not just get in the mind, but also the physical space of where the user experience is happening. Is it a loud manufacturing facility, is it a cramped commuter train, or is it a quiet health facility?

Knowing where the user experience is happening, getting a sense of that environment, even visiting, if at all possible, is the best way to ensure that the user experience is being designed, not just for the right kinds of users, but also for the right kinds of environments. We do it for different mobile devices, screen resolutions and browsers; why wouldn’t want to also design for the physical space?

The short answer is that we would.

Being an empathic and user-centered UX designer means that you have to capture as much as you can about the user, how and where, they interact with your design — The physical environment shouldn’t get any less consideration than any of the other design criteria.

UX Design: Putting users first

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A user experience can go two ways.

The first way is the one you design.

With the first way you do research, build personas, do user interviews. You’re constantly testing, measuring and making adjustments. With this way, you know your users, your audience, your customers, etc… With this way, they use the design, and they appreciate the work you’re doing for them. They might even be extremely satisfied with your site, app or product and return time and again, with enthusiasm, because they know you care and are trying to make the most of their time.

User experience can go another way.

The second way is the one that has no design.

People need to use your site, app or product, but you do no research and give no consideration to the user; there are no personas, or user interviews. You don’t know your users, you underestimate them and you don’t value their time. You know that they can get the tasks done, because they’ve found workarounds, and for those that can’t we chalk it up to “user error” and write it off.

Nobody wants to do it the second way, but sadly, this is still how many organizations operate. A time is coming when this organization will be moved to the margins, and eventually discarded entirely, by others that are more enthusiastic, more energetic and more service-oriented, in fact it’s already happening.

Which way do you want to take?

UX isn’t just for designers

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To non-designers user experience can a very abstract concept. We’re lucky to have this empathic perspective of walking a mile in somebody else’s use cases, but mostly, folks don’t get it. It’s kind of like trying to explain to your parents what you do as a user experience professional… ‘what the hell is that?’ They might say back to you… or they might just nod in feigned acknowledgement… Either way, just like having empathy for users, we need to have empathy for those folks who don’t understand what UX is all about.

It’s kind of exciting, really, because it’s our job to teach them about UX.

Where teaching UX is concerned, I’ve found that nothing works quite as well as a ‘show don’t tell’ approach. Teaching UX is even better if you can get lay-people involved in some kinds of interactive exercises around UX.

I’m reluctant to say something is easy, but teaching the value of UX is, well… kind of easy. In nearly every instance where I’ve had to introduce UX folks have been pretty quick to get what UX means and how it could benefit users and an organization alike. After all, who hasn’t had to work with crummy software, navigate a horrible website or complete a task through an ill-conceived smartphone app? These experiences are ubiquitous and universal in a world driven by human-computer interactions.

Two simple, high level, ways to teach a lay-person UX might be to:

  1. Make a series of paper prototype user interfaces for paying a bill or ordering a book online — a straightforward interaction that should have only a few clicks;
  2. Walk through a simple purchase on Amazon or eBay, narrating the steps and what’s happening, from a UX perspective, as you go.

Each of these simple, low-tech, steps, highlights in context, what the user experience is and what its benefits could be. Exercises like these bridge the gap of abstraction, making something conceptual into something practical. When you make a connection for a business person or some other non-designer, it’s magical; these Aha! Moments make the teaching of UX very satisfying and a lot of fun.

While UX is quickly achieving buzzword status, it’s a real and necessary discipline whose time has come. UX, after its vogue period, will stop being “cool” and will just be… a mature operational practice taken for granted like automobile safety features or tamper-proof packaging, so it’s our job to be teachers and stewards of UX, not just how it can benefit our organizations, but how it can benefit the world. We may get to a time where user interfaces cease to exist, but UX will be at the heart of that, too.

What did you expect? Self-awareness in UX

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It’s hard not to get hung up on expectations. When something doesn’t go the way you want, or work the way you thought it should, it’s hard to be cognizant of this and step back. It’s hard for most people, and UX professionals are no different. Somehow, we have to make an appeal to our bigger selves to stop, have the presence of mind to observe what’s going on and then reflect on the expectations.

We have to pause and think about what we expected. Should we have expected whatever outcome didn’t occur? Maybe we ask ourselves what somebody was thinking when they created that app, or that product or that experience. How did they arrive at the conclusions that brought me this experience that you didn’t expect.

When you walk up to a doorknob, and quite unconsciously go to turn it… but it doesn’t turn… You stop, you think about what’s happening, maybe you reef on the door knob, maybe you pull on it, but the unconsciousness of the mundane activity has dissipated and now you’re consciously interacting with the door knob, which is now a problem, that you’re actively engaged in trying to figure out.

When you visit a website, you surf around, maybe you find what you’re looking for, but then unconsciously navigate to the top left corner to click a logo and get back to the homepage, but the logo isn’t a link, or worse there’s no logo, maybe even there’s no home button. Again, you come out of that, almost unconscious, state, awaken for a second and now you’re in problem-solving mode.  How the hell do I get back to the homepage?

These are only two examples, two extremely basic examples.

Now, think about this: The average user (read: most users) won’t go through the trouble-shooting phase, they won’t investigate further. They will, unconsciously, look for another door, X-out of the webpage, delete the app, etc… they’re using a tool to complete a task and the tool isn’t working. Between the speed of life and (almost subconscious) expectations we, as UX professionals, don’t get a lot of do-overs, or second chances with bad first impressions. We have to deliver on expectations from go and keep on delivering right on through.

Sure, there will be cases like Facebook and their bazillion news feed UI changes, and Twitter with all of their timeline changes, but the value for these organizations has been confirmed and delivered, first impressions have been had, so they have some flexibility… to a point. If you screw around with the users enough times you’re going to have an Internet Explorer situation on your hands and most people are just going to give up and move just as soon as they can, veritable monopolies notwithstanding.

So, in your own life, try to take notice. Try to be aware of your expectations. Are things working the way you want them to be? If not, what did you expect and why? This isn’t an article about user research or user testing, but really a an article on self-awareness, because that self-awareness is the greatest asset that a UX professional can have.

5 tips for a feel-good user experience

Armed with a buy-one, get-one free coupon he’d gotten over the weekend we passed over the hallowed threshold of a large, national chicken wings franchise. We were regulars. We’d been there before… many times, but this time, for one of us, lunch was going to be free, thanks to the aforementioned BOGO coupon…

Free wings = A good day – An ancient law of yore, I believe.

We sat. We ordered. Lunch came without incident and the idea of free wings made them that much more delicious.

Lunch bliss ensued.

The Bill came. BOGO coupon was presented.

Lunch bliss quickly unraveled.

So, it turned out that the BOGO coupon was worded badly. The server tried to clarify, but became increasingly frustrated and emphatic when stating that it wasn’t, in fact, a BOGO coupon, but some other kind of offer. Confused, we listened and continued our inquiry, at this point, for purely academic reasons, to try and understand the printed offer. Realizing the server was quickly becoming incensed and on the verge of making a scene, we paid up and left. Our bellies were full, with equal parts wings and resentment.

“Well,” I said to my lunch companion, “that was an extremely unpleasant experience.”

“Yes,” He said, as we walked in silence.

As a user experience practitioner, I couldn’t help but think about our experience and the words of the late Tom Magliozzi, from the NPR Show Car Talk where he said: “Happiness = Reality – Expectations”, but in what world do we live where there aren’t any expectations. No world that I’ve visited, that’s for sure! This led me to the think about how the experience could have been better, and so I came up with 5 tips for a feel-good user experience:

1.) Everybody has expectations

2.) Everybody wants to feel good

3.) Everybody wants to be treated well

4.) Everybody wants to feel important

5.) Everybody has to deal with reality

1.) Everybody has expectations
Can you deliver the goods? What do your users want? Have you done the research? Have you gotten to know them? Do they know what you offer and do they expect it? You have to know what your users are expecting. Without this critical knowledge you’ll always be in the dark where your users are concerned and it won’t take long for another organization to see what you’re doing wrong, improve upon it and put you out of business.

2.) Everybody wants to feel good
Can you make your users feel good? Can your product/service take a bad situation and make it better? Can your support staff? Is your service so good that your users feel empowered, recharged and delighted after an experience with your organization? Satisfaction is one thing, but creating happiness, or at the very least a very positive experience is another thing entirely. Are you up it?

3.) Everybody wants to be treated well
It’s easy to treat users well when things are going smoothly, but how is it when things aren’t going so well? User experience, as a discipline, didn’t come about to deal with things when everything is going well, but to reduce and/or work towards eliminating those areas of the experience that break down when things aren’t going well. Treat your users well.

4.) Everybody wants to feel important
Do your users feel important? Do they feel like they’re being heard and acknowledged? We’ve all heard the adage about how the customer is always right, but even when they’re not, do they feel like they’re right, or at least feel like their perspective is important and valued? If not, those customers won’t be customers for long. The adage about the customer always being right has always been a little tongue in cheek behind the product/service curtain, but the user doesn’t need to come behind the curtain, they just need to feel important.

5.) Everybody has to deal with reality
The old marketing bromide states, thusly: Perception is reality, but sometimes reality is a bummer. It’s hard to integrate considerations for dealing with reality into the user experience, but we have to try. Those conditions in which a user comes to us are the conditions that we need to prepare for. Through quantitative and qualitative research we can learn what our users are trying to do to and how they’re interacting with our product or service and meet them where they’re at. We have to. It’s our responsibility.

These are the 5 tips for a feel-good user experience. Each one, in an of itself, will not make for a feel-good user experience, but together, combined, they come very close to perfecting the user experience. Even if you don’t think of everything the first time through, with ongoing refinement you can get darn close to perfecting an experience.

If our server or the large national wings franchise had any of these 5 tips for a feel-good user experience in their service arsenal this experience would have been dramatically different. However, most organizations are like the large national wings franchise with employees not unlike the server. Thing is, there are a lot of places making wings and a lot of out-of-work servers, and perhaps most importantly a lot of organizations working to create feel-good user experiences. There can be only one; which do you want to be?