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