Blog

  • Meet me in Austin at my SXSW 2013 Mentor Session

    There's a new Mentor Program at SXSW Interactive this year, which has an interesting new format. Instead of the normal hour-long presentation, Mentors will meet 1:1 with only 6 guests — each meeting lasts 7 minutes. It's intended to bring a more conversational and intimate format to the conference.

    Needless to say, I'm excited to be a SXSW Interactive Mentor this year. Browse the Mentors here and sign up for a slot with me here. Unfortunately, it looks like all my sessions have already filled up! Check back for cancelations or try to sign up on the day-of for any sessions that may have opened up.

    (You will need an account to sign up for a Mentor Session. Create one here.)

  • Bootcamp for a UX Team of None

    Fred Beecher, Brynn Evans, Krista Sanders, Russ Unger
    #uxbootcamp #nouxteam #sxnouxteam

    This past Monday, I presented to a packed room at SXSWi'12 on something I'm super passionate about these days: helping non UXers (developers, product managers, entrepreneurs, etc.) learn about UX.

    Our session was called Bootcamp for a UX Team of None, and it was intended to give 3 tips on the UX process that are useful and applicable to everyone who's developing a product. Slides are here.

    1. Use pen & paper sketches to develop ideas
    2. Learn how to give feedback to and receive feedback from colleagues
    3. Talk to users (pro tip: they don't have to be YOUR users)


    Sketching

    …as a tool for thinking and ideation
    Everyone is already familiar with brainstorming on whiteboards or on the back of paper napkins in coffee shops. Sketching is the designer's tool for thinking though problems. The goal with sketching is to literally draw out ideas — not to make polished artwork, but to communicate your ideas and explore multiple lo-fi ideas before settling on any ONE.

    We taught the audience only one sketching exercise, but it's the simplest and most versatile one: 6-8-5. The goal is to create 6-8 rough sketches of an idea in 5 minutes. We told them that we're going to design a SXSW Party app to help people find the right party to attend. The constraints for the exercise were that it had to be a mobile app, it had to mark parties as "open", "private", "full", "full of drunk people", etc., and it had to display parties to the user.

    After we spent 5 minutes silently sketching, we explained that the next step in this exercise is to share people's rough sketches with each other, and then repeat another round of 6-8-5. Following this, we'd create "1-ups" or single screens of each step in the flow — all still just putting pen on paper!

    Here are some of the awesome 5-minute sketches that came from the audience:

    (by @mccasal @ShaunaN @ACoulton @MitchMcKamey)


    Feedback

    …as a tool for internal communication
    Good communication is key to good product development. It's also important to get in the habit of sharing ideas early with members of your team — this is good for collaboration and quick iteration of mediocre ideas into solid ideas.

    When asking for feedback, it's important to give the 30-second brief on what you want feedback on (the context), and then to be clear on what you do AND don't want feedback on.

    Feedback is always a dialogue, so the rules of brainstorming apply: questions & clarifications are good; lobbing bombs is bad. For every piece of critical feedback you give, you must supply a solution. The "feedback sandwich" is another a helpful delivery mechanism: provide praise — then a piece of critical feedback — then more praise.

    Other tips: be a listenaholic — both if you're giving and receiving feedback. Consider sketching out your colleague's idea, even if you think it's crap. 6-8-5s only take a 5-minutes (!), so there's really no excuse not to consider an odd-ball idea and see how it could improve your designs, even in a small way.


    by @ixdiego


    Guerilla research

    …as a tool for quick insights and design iteration
    Getting feedback from users is absolutely critical and there's a low-tech method everyone can use: Man on the Street. The only equipment you'll need is a mobile phone with video capability! (Dude, it's in your pocket all the time!)

    Then hit the streets with a colleague (one of you will record the interview, one of you will engage with the user.) It's incredibly scary to approach strangers and ask them for 15-minutes of their time, but it's worse to launch a crappy product. Luckily, most people are friendly and can be easily persuaded by free coffee, free lunch, and even just free candy.

    When showing your designs to someone, set up enough context so they know what they're looking at, but don't go into detail on your design process or what's on each screen. You can state that the designs are rough — and it's perfectly fine to "test" hand-drawn sketches or paper prototypes — and rough designs might even generate more honest feedback, since it'll be obvious that they're not locked in stone yet.

    Then begin the interview with polite but very general questions. Start with "What do you see here?" or "What would you do first?". Follow up with "Why?" … "Why?"…and then "Why?". Keep asking "Why?" until you understand the root cause of the person's comment or confusion. Never ask questions like: "What do you think?" or "Do you like this?"

    Pro tip: Don't video record the user's face — this way you won't need privacy/release forms!


    by @ixdiego

    Although these are only three, very basic tools that UX designers use — any product team should be able to improve their design process by adopting these methods. The key to good design is iteration, feedback, and focus on the user.

    ----------------

    A few footnotes on the presentation:
    When we originally submitted this panel to SXSW back in June/July'11, we listed it as a "workshop". This was the first time I'd see a workshop format at SXSW, and we instantly preferred an interactive & engaging panel to a speaking one. However once we were accepted, we were listed as a "panel." I don't know how or why the workshop format got dropped (I'm going to follow up with SXSW about this) — but we decided to try for a part-workshop, part-panel format during the session anyway. Judging by the tweets, it seems to have been pretty engaging!

    Finally, my co-presenters rock — I am lucky and thankful to have had the opportunity to work with them! Thank you Krista, Russ, and Fred!

  • Joining Google

    My life has been adrift in adventures over the last few months since I left my startup. It's been wonderful, fulfilling, and challenging. I took on my first info viz project with a client; ran a few gamestorming workshops; dabbled in iOS design...and organized two conferences: SketchCamp (May 28, 2011) and Overlap (coming up this weekend: June 10-13, 2011).

    In the process of taking this "time off", I was also interviewing at several interesting startups and larger companies. And I recently decided to join one of them: Google.

    Yes, this is a big move for me, but I'm very excited!! I'll be joining the UX design team at Google on June 27th — and I'll be working in the social product group! A great fit all around.

    While searching around for my next professional venture, I knew that I was looking for a design role on a product team. I loved working in the small, fast-paced environment of a startup, but I didn't want to be the first and sole designer on a team where design was neither understood nor valued. I wanted to find a place with UX researchers and designers, and I wanted to sit on the design side of that spectrum. I also wanted a place where my generalist background would give me opportunities to do things outside of my design role (e.g., gamestorming, organizing, facilitating). Google promises to be a place where these things are possible for me.

    I know that there will be challenges — both organizationally and in the way product & design are run. But I've never worked at a large company and I want to learn how things operate at that scale. In the very least, Google will be a different experience from any that I've had before, and I'm ready to try taking on something new!

    I feel incredibly fortunate and humbled to join a place with so many other brilliant and inspiring folks (a huge reason why I chose Google was the caliber of people I met during my interviews!) I have to thank my long-time colleague and friend, Ed Chi, for encouraging me to apply, and my wonderful friends and family for being so supportive through my interviews and transition. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Whatever the future holds, I know that I'll learn and grow, meet amazingly talented people, and hopefully help make Google products that much more fun, enjoyable, and rewarding for all of us!

  • In the aftermath of SketchCamp

    Last weekend, I helped to organize and host the first annual SketchCamp. SketchCamp was a one-day event for interaction design and user experience (UX) professionals; we ran it like a BarCamp with a focus on UX sketching. It was a total success!

    Since then, several people have reached out to get more info on SketchCamp so that they can run one in their city (Vancouver, Chicago, DC...) That's really exciting, and I want to support that as much as possible. Thus, I'm starting with a blog post to give some background — and anyone who is interested in talking more should email me directly. (Be sure to check out Behind the Scenes below)

    How SketchCamp came to be
    Greg Nudelman and I were inspired to produce SketchCamp in SF after attending a similar event, DrawCamp, in Milwaukee last year. We came back from DrawCamp with new tips for drawing and sketching, taking sketchnotes, drawing upside down, writing while talking, etc. etc. We felt that the appropriate focus in the Bay Area would be UX sketching. Hence, SketchCamp was born!

    Eight months later, we were a crew of 4 organizers (Greg, me, Josh Williams and Netta Marshall), 4 volunteers (Kathryn Storm, Scott Tran, Liz Dalay, and Jessica Skelton), myriad sponsors (Jess3, DesignCaffeine, HotStudio, UIE, Autodesk, Rosenfeld, and Square), and were lucky to have a beautiful venue (Singly Headquarters) for our Memorial Day weekend event.

    Day of the event
    The day before the event, all the organizers and volunteers gathered at Singly to breakdown their office equipment (tables & chairs) and set up for SketchCamp (our chairs, our layout). This took about 4.5 hours to do with 7 people helping. We set up and prepped for everything except for placing signs on the walls and blowing up balloons, which we saved for the next morning.

    On the day-of, we arrived at SketchCamp around 7am for final preparations. Breakfast arrived around 8:15...our speakers showed up early to set up...and the first attendees rolled in around 8:45am. By 9:30, we kicked it off!

    The rest of the morning, we had 3 speakers presenting on sketching and UX-related topics. Jared Spool spent 45 minutes in a conversation with the audience about how to get non-sketchers to be more comfortable sketching. Dan Willis then shared an interesting perspective on how to think more holistically about UX design by focusing on "intent paths". Finally, Dana Chisnell led us in a 1.5 hour design studio workshop on redesigning the ballot. Kate Rutter did awesome graphic recordings of the first two sessions.

    We took just over an hour for lunch, and people split off into clusters to chat with each other all over venue. At 2pm, we started the BarCamp portion of the event. We had 3 breakout rooms (named after famous UX sketchers), and each session was 25 minutes (allowing 5 minutes for people to move to the next session). Two rooms had white boards; one had a projector and a easel with large post-its.

    And, of course, the sessions all went really well:

    Daria Kempka (organizer of the original DrawCamp, Milwaukee) took this great set of photos:

    And one of our volunteers, Kathryn Storm, shared these photos:


    Behind the scenes

    Leading up to the event
    In the months leading up to the event, the organizers met 1-2 times per month until about 8 weeks out, when we started meeting weekly. Our weekly meeting spot was The Grove Cafe (Mission @3rd St.) — it was open late, had wifi, and served pretty tasty food and wine & beer. It was also conveniently near many of our downtown offices. After we signed on a few volunteers, they also attended our weekly meetings to get up to speed on our planning and help out in whatever ways they could.

    Our weekly meetings involved reviewing what progress we had made in the previous week, adding and removing items from our to-do list, and divvying up responsibilities. These meetings were working meetings since we had very little time outside of Tuesdays from 7-10pm to devote to planning. This model worked pretty well for us, though, since we gave ourselves enough prep time between announcing the event and actually putting on the event.

    In fact, we originally planned to have SketchCamp back in October or November 2010. We kept finding conflicts with other events and with our own schedules, so after we got sketchcamp.com set up, we picked a date in the distant future when we were all available. That date was May 28, 2011, and at the time, none of us realized that it was Memorial Day weekend! (This didn't prove to be much of a problem, though. It deterred a few people from signing up, but there were plenty of other people to take their places.)

    When we finally announced SketchCamp on January 5, 2011 (early bird tickets were $20), we sold out in 2 days! At the time, we were planning to have the event at ModCloth where our max capacity was around 75 people, so we released only 60 early bird tickets. It was only later when we switched venues from ModCloth to Singly that our capacity increased to 100, and we released another 20 "regular admission" tickets for $40 each. That second round of tickets also sold out in a day.

    We were not expecting SketchCamp to be so popular or to sell out so quickly! There is definitely interest in the UX community for an event like this (and I'm sure there will be in other cities too!) We joked about how we should have put a higher price tag on the event...and we could have used more funds (we came in over-budget by about $200). If we had had to pay for our venue, we would have been out an additional $500 :(

    And yet historically BarCamps have been free, so we were hesitant to charge even $20 for attendance at first. However, we knew that we needed to provide breakfast, lunch, and random other supplies, and we didn't have sponsors lined up back in January who would cover our costs. $20 is a funny number — it was nearly enough to cover food and drinks for everyone, but not enough to deter people from randomly signing up and then bailing on the day-of. We had about 25% attrition and, thus, had about 25% more food than we needed. I guess it never works out perfectly....

    The next time around, we will think about charging $50 or even $75 per person, especially if the event remains as a single-track of speakers in the morning and a BarCamp in the afternoon (aka not a 100% pure BarCamp model). As I mentioned, we would have needed the additional funds if we had had to pay for our venue...

    Our budget
    We ended up with a budget of about $3450, through a combination of sponsorships ($1250 total) and attendance fees ($2200). Our total costs exceeded this amount by about $200 — which isn't that bad in the big scheme of things, and which the 4 organizers settled by splitting up the remaning costs amongst ourselves.

    Our main costs were:

    • Food = $2650
    • Supplies = $300
    • AV equipment and chair rentals = $585
    • Domain hosting/setup costs = $135

    We were lucky to have our venue donated to us by Singly, but several other venues we were considering cost $500-$1500 for the day. Those options would have totally broken our budget and would have been less ideal all around. We ended up with a spacious, comfortable, and gorgeous live/work space in the Mission with tons of light. It made for a cheery atmosphere and cheerful attendees!

    Our food was the most expensive item in our budget at $2650. This included breakfast, lunch, and 2 coffee services from Radius SF. When our total headcount was only 75, their food quote came to ~$24 per person. When we went up to 100, the quote increased to $26.50 per person. Both quotes seem to be pretty reasonable, especially because Radius makes totally fresh and home-made organic food (all sourced from within a 100 mile radius of SF).

    We could have reduced our budget slightly if we hadn't needed to rent AV equipment. That rental alone was about $480; chairs were only about $1/chair.

  • Social search can't be solved by an algorithm (part deux)


    Just a few weeks ago, I shared the debut of a new book, Dancing with Digital Natives; I wrote the first chapter: When Facebook comes to work.

    Today I'm happy to announce another book, Designing Search (by Greg Nudelman) that I also have a small contribution in. It's a 3-page "sidebar" called: Social search can't be solved by an algorithm — basically an updated version of the blog post with the same name that I wrote back in January 2010. Here's an excerpt for your enjoyment:

    "The benefits of "social search" come from using social network information in conjunction with search algorithms. Services can begin to "learn" which of your friends have expertise or knowledge about certain topics. Then when you search for those topics, people from your network with relevant knowledge could be made available to you...People may appear only as a search result listing, linking to their profile or email address; or they could appear as a direct contact, like through an instant messaging window on the same page as the search results...

    Another area for social support is during search difficulties — or when people are struggling to find certain information. Anytime you can't find what you're looking for on the first try, or you rework your query over and over again, these are use cases that could benefit from...[tapping] your social network."

    ------

    Designing Search: UX Strategies for eCommerce Success
    by Greg Nudelman

    A glaring gap has existed in the market for a resource that offers a comprehensive, actionable design patterns and design strategies for ecommerce search—but no longer. With this invaluable book, user experience designer and user researcher Greg Nudelman shares his years of experience working on popular ecommerce sites as he tackles even the most difficult ecommerce search design problems. Nudelman helps you create highly effective and intuitive ecommerce search design solutions and he takes a unique forward-thinking look at trends such as integrating searching with browsing to create a single-finding user interface.

    • Offers much-needed insight on how to create ecommerce search experiences that truly benefit online shoppers
    • Juxtaposes examples of common design pitfalls against examples of highly effective ecommerce search design solutions
    • Presents comprehensive guidance on ecommerce search design strategies for the Web, mobile phone applications, and new tablet devices
    • Shares the author’s years of unique experience working with ecommerce from the perspective of the user’s experience

    Designing Search is mandatory reading if you are interested in orchestrating successful ecommerce search strategies.

    ISBN: 978-0-470-94223-9
    Paperback
    304 pages

  • When Facebook comes to work

    The chapter I wrote over a year and a half ago, "When Facebook Comes to Work," has finally been published in a new CyberAge book by Information Today: Dancing with Digital Natives. (View the Table of Contents.)

    "This remarkable group of editors and authors presents a range of opinions about the challenges and opportunities of business life in a digital era. Taken together, these essays help us to debunk many of the myths that we too commonly rely upon when we talk of digital natives, in the context of business, marketing, learning, career development, and otherwise. ... No matter what, this book will make you think."

    —John Palfrey, co-author, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives

    The book is a compilation of chapters by different authors who speak to the characteristics of "digital natives" — folks who have been immersed in digital technology from birth — and how digital natives are transforming the way business is done. My chapter is on the work style of young technophiles. It just so happens to be the first chapter and the sample chapter that you can download to get a preview of the rest of the book!

    I am quoted in a book review by PR Newswire, talking about the impact of digital natives in the workplace:

    "It's not just their hip iPhones and contemporary slang ('Facebook me!') that marks this as a new era. Their work practice is fundamentally changing as they live and breathe this culture of distributed networking and social technologies.. ... It may never be a practice that managers and previous generations wish to embrace personally—and that's fine. They will, however, need to recognize and understand this emerging work practice if they wish to maximize the digital native workforce."
    —Brynn Evans, Ch 1 – When Facebook Comes to Work

    ---------
    Dancing with Digital Natives was edited by Michelle Manafy and Heidi Gautschi. The contributors include Mary Ann Bell, Shashi Bellamkonda, Sarah Bryans Bongey, Jami L. Carlacio, Albert M. Erisman, Brynn Evans, Susan Evans, Lance Heidig, David Hubbard, Richard Hull, Marshall Lager, Christa M. Miller, Emilie Moreau, Carolina M. Reid, Michael Russell, Peggy Anne Salz, Arana Shapiro, Dan Schawbel, Rebecca Rufo-Tepper, and Robert J. Torres.

    It can be purchased on Amazon or directly from the publisher.

    2011/408 pp/hardbound
    ISBN 978-0-910965-87-3
    Regular Price $27.95

  • What I brought home from SXSW

    I just returned from an amazing 5 days in sunny Austin, TX. This was my 3rd year at SxSWi and it was as jam packed, exhausting, and energizing as any I've been to in the past! I decided not to do the panel-hopping thing this year and instead spend quality time with people I rarely get to see.

    (I was also spotted singing karaoke on the RVIP bus, which I never do either!)

    But when I came home yesterday, I realized that I brought home a ton of stuff, despite making my best attempt to stay away from the conference hall and the oodles of swag handed out every year.

    Here's what I brought home with me:

    • 3 Gowalla shirts (2 t-shirts and 1 adorable 3/4 length hoodie)
    • 2.5 pairs of YouTube knee-high socks (now I just need a kickball game to play in!)
    • A ditto shirt
    • An Urban Airship shirt
    • A professional photo for my about.me page!
    • 2 sample BankSimple credit cards (cannot wait for this one to launch!)
    • Photos from the Google Photobooth (1 - 2 - 3 - 4)

    Oh, and I walked a total of 79,551 steps (or 34.8 miles) across 5 days.

    What did you bring home?

  • Time for something new — but what?

    It’s with mixed emotions that I’m announcing my departure from the startup I’ve been working at since last August. I’m going to keep this post brief and follow up with a longer, more thoughtful post on why I left after the SxSW craze dies down.

    In short, my startup was no longer a place where I could do the kind of creative work I want to do (and that I’m good at). The people on the team and the history we’d built up as a company made it a difficult place to do UX and design. Part of this is because we were larger (7 people) than we should have been given the certainty of the product direction. This led to every decision being made by committee — leading to premature compromises and resulting in bad product design. I was also the sole designer and I’ve come to realize that I’m more effective when I work on a collaborative team that understands and appreciates the role of UX.

    So, what's next? I’m not sure yet! I will be taking March off to consider a variety of options, using SxSW as a bookend to this chapter in my professional development.

    Come find me at SXSW and let's chat — I'd love to get pointers to new opportunities that excite you!

    Oh, and of course: thanks to all my friends who've helped me through this decision and transition. It hasn't been easy for me, and I'm grateful for all your support!

  • Overlap 2011 - sneak peak

    This weekend Krista and I scoped out the venue for the Overlap conference that we're planning for June 2011. It's a lot of work to plan and prepare everything, but the people in the Overlap community, alone, make the undertaking worth it! Plus, we got pretty jazzed when we saw the venue for the first time this weekend! Enjoy!

    Krista's photos:

    My photos:

  • #1UP: Games for Change

    It's exciting that South by Southwest is just around the corner! When I submitted my panel proposal back in, what, June? July?...I had an inkling that games would be an interesting topic, and I was particularly interested in social change. Hence a panel proposal which is now called: 1UP! Games for Change. (hashtag will be #1UP)!

    Yesterday, James Renovitch published an article in the Austin Chronicle based on an interview with me, Thor Muller, and Dave Gray about our respective game panels: "Gaming the System: Applying the mechanics of play to the everyday". It got me even more excited about picking the brains of my two awesome panelists, Zao Yang (of MyMiniLife/Farmville) and Jude Ower (of theplaymob.com), about their perspective on "gamification" and how games can be used to motivate people to change their behavior – for personal or social change.

    The short version of the panel is this:

    This panel will explore ways that games can be used to motivate personal change and increase productivity. We'll start by talking about the theory behind games and gamification for behavior change — in contrast to games for social networking (e.g., Foursquare) — and how game-like activities have been used for a long time to encourage people to change their own behavior. Then the discussion will revolve around applications of game theory in practical, everyday situations (e.g., in the workplace, for dieting, parenting, reducing our carbon footprint, etc). Our panelists will talk about their experience in these situations — what games they chose, how the games helped change people's behavior, and any take-aways they have for using games in your own life or building them into your next enterprise.

    For the long version, come attend the panel in Austin!

    1UP! Games for Change: Tuesday March 15, at 5:00pm in Room 6AB of the Austin Convention Center.