Sunday 12 April 2015

UXLibs: Part Two: Chop Down the Door

I don't think I was the only person who turned up at UXLib without any real idea of what I was letting myself in for. I knew it was going to be different. I knew it was going to be challenging. I was fairly certain it was going to be useful. But I only had a vague idea of what we'd actually be doing. If I'm honest I only had a vague idea of what anthropology and ethnography meant in regards to user experience and libraries. I'm not completely certain I could cite a definition even now. 

What I wasn't prepared for was the way it would change my thinking and my willingness to take risks. More than this it reignited my desire to question. To ask why something is the way it is and why we are creating solutions that aren't actually solutions at all. I came away with many ideas from the conference, many new tools and skills. But this reawakened need to question, a need that has been smothered by the operational necessities of managing a large and changing service, has more value for me than any other aspect from the conference. 

Paired with this is my other key take home, connected to solutions and involving the idea of friction and intuition. This is that our services need to be intuitive, otherwise we waste time, both for ourselves, explaining or instructing, and for our users who may struggle, or even fail, to get the end result they want. 

For me the analogy that explains this best is the idea of removing a door completely, rather than attempting to provide our users with the keys to the lock. Or in other words getting rid of the underlying causes of the barriers and barriers themselves, rather than trying to find ways around, through or over them.  Out of everything from the UXLibs conference I suspect this may be a theme I return to throughout my future career, one of the few real eureka moments I've had in recent years. A moment that explains that pervading feeling of frustration when someone suggests yet another webpage, another video, another poster, rather than looking at why those things are needed in the first place.

A simple premise to understand, a more complex one to address. And that is where the friction comes in. That where services aren't intuitive, where our users do experience friction, then we can use that, learn from it, let it inform how we adjust and change. Use anthropological and enthnographic techniques to examine, map and deconstruct this friction to create services that are informed by user experience in a direct way rather than second guess the solutions they need.

What follows is a summary of some of the tools that can be used to gather that friction and the techniques that can be employed to develop it into real solutions that are user led. These aren't all the techniques explored at UXLibs, but for my own reference the ones I think are most likely to be of use to me in the future. The ones I will need my aging memory jogging about in the years to come. If you want to know exactly what went on at the rest of UXLibs there are plenty of other posts that will cover the process of fieldwork, ideation and pitching. What follows below is purely an aid for my own purposes. 

Fieldwork Techniques:

Love Letters and Break-Up Letter

Touchstone Tours, taking the form of a user showing an observer 'their' world using a service or object to provide context or focus. It can be as simple as the 'bag tour,' explained in our session, when a user takes the observer through the content of their bag to give an understanding of how they study and work. At the opposite end it could be as wide reaching as a user explaining their study and search methods in a library environment. Photo studies can be used in conjunction with Touchstone Tours to provide added insight and can also be used with Diary Studies

Speaking or Feedback Walls 

Directed Storytelling and Contextual Enquiries

Observations: as simple as it seems but needs to be given structure using a framework such as the  AEIOU Framework for Observation, encompassing Activities, Environment, Interactions, Objects and Users.

Mapping - which I didn't attend the session for and which I don't really understand as a method, at least not in a way that I would be confident employing the technique.

For further reference a couple of relevant presentations around the subject from speakers at the conference: 


I'm not sure what was covered in the other workshops around ideation, my own workshop was enough to take in and in the end was the model Navy Seals used to arrive at our final pitch idea. 

In our workshop we started off with cliche subversion, a technique that involves stating the obvious, the cliches surrounding your topic, service or question, and then subverting them, to discover the possibilities for what else you the service could entail. It is meant to remove you from the assumptions we make and open up opportunities to discover and explore problems and solutions. In some cases the subversions might seem ridiculous, obvious or unobtainable, the point of the technique is to surface all ideas, including those we might normally discount as any of the above. 

We then used a group/individual technique similar to brainstorming but which builds on the subverting cliches and combines the power of individual creation and group development. As individuals you find solutions to 8-10 of the cliches before each group member shares with the rest of the team. As individuals you then narrow your selection to 6, either building on your own ideas, creating new ones or building on someone else's. The team shares again and there is a final round with each member again narrowing their selection down to three. 

In our actual ideation for the pitch these ideas were then narrowed down again by applying a sort of SWOT analysis based on Innovation/convention/ease/difficulty - a way of sorting what would have the most impact and still be achievable, either easily with quick fixes or in a more strategic sense. 

It was interesting for me that after starting off feeling rather negative about our fieldwork and the potential for a pitch the process of subverting our findings and developing solutions as a group meant that we ended up in a much stronger position than we imagined. By trusting the methods and going into the process without a prior assumption we were able to arrive at a problem and solution that was a true outcome of our fieldwork. It took longer than expected and involved a great deal of debate and compromise, but we did reach a consensus and come up with a workable idea. 


Finally, a few key points for pitching an idea. I'll be honest, I can't think of a real time scenario where I had to pitch in such a formal way, but the theory is sound, even if the reality of applying in the future might be a bit different. 

Start off with an elevator pitch. Two sentences that sum up your idea, it's benefits, customer base and why it is different to the current situation. Then develop:

The beginning: 

  • Describe the status quo
  • Explain the observations (the evidence)
  • Demonstrate with a story based on reality
The middle:
  • Explain the insight and then the opportunity it presents
  • Make an analogy
The finish:
  • Describe the solution
  • Stress the advantages and benefits
  • Link it back the ethos - the bigger picture, what it contributes to the wider aims and objectives of the organisation or service.

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