Notes from "How to be a UX Team of One?" virtual seminar

18 Nov 2008 5:00 PM | Deleted user

TriUPA sponsors Shanna Ward (Insight) and Janey Barnes (User-View) kindly provided these notes based on their viewing of Adaptive Path's recent virtual seminar, "How to be a UX Team of One?"

A slidecast, templates, and links relevant to the seminar are available on Leah's website.


The discussion began by trying to turn a new leaf, instead of feeling the shame of being a UX Team of One, take pride in being a UX Team of one. Often times this role can hold the most impact, but as a team of one the UX professional is often a jack of all trades and a master of none, really a generalist as opposed to a specialist in their field. These generalists often have to stand alone and need effective strategies to work with the other specialists, i.e. specific research teams, designers, marketers, development, etc. One of the challenges is knowing when and where to get involved into the development process. People with lots of experience tend to avoid being a team of one, but often this level of expertise helps in this situation. There are several stages of growing a UX group, the first and largest is to be interested, then moving into more comitted roles are invested, committed, engaged, and completely emerged.

Stealth Skills for a UX Team of One

  1. Be Smart with Documentation
  2. Design Better than you Thought You Could
  3. Collaborate Like a Master
  4. Be Politically Correct

1. Be Smart with Documentation:
There is good documentation and bad documentation.

Documentation can focus attention on the wrong thing. Documentation lends itself to “controlled ownership”, can provide an excuse/reason for procrastinating (e.g., I have to focus on the formatting of the documentation as opposed to the content), and can be an end unto itself.

It's important to assess how the documentation is furthering UX goals and process...

  • Who is reading our documentation?
  • How long is the documentation?
  • How much cross referencing is needed?
  • Is the documentation overly glossed?
  • Is the documentation communicating an idea?

Good documentation...

  • Works for multiple audiences
  • Tells its own story
  • Is quick to produce

2. Design Better than you Thought You Could
Sketching, simple pen and paper can have save time and is an excellent exploratory and refinement tool.

  • Exploratory sketching is the first step, in this step the goal is to generate lots and lots of ideas, some better than others. Using a 6-up template will help push development of several concepts. If you are stuck then play with words, pull out relevant words and design around them. Also having an inspiration library will help to generate additional ideas, these would include interesting shapes and concepts that help to get the creative juices flowing.
  • Refinement sketching is done after exploratory sketching, once several ideas are generated now is the time to refine these concepts. For this phase Leah recommended using a 1-up Template to help define the concept in a format where it is easy to share with others and can be used as a tool for discussion. Some sketching tips include: using weighted lines for emphasis, shading to decrease focus, and labels to add clarity and meaning.

Once sketches are refined now is the time to share and get feedback, both positive and negative. Design is not an absolute, there is no right or wrong in design, just MY preference and YOUR preference.

Resource: article on sketchboards.

3. Collaborate Like a Master
This is a critical step and is a helpful way to gain a broader perspective for solutions and serve as a way to critique already established ideas. There are three types of workshops that can be held...

1) controlled review (boring and typical documentation review)

2) collaborative review (all members review current concepts and actively generate new concepts and critique existing ones)

3) collaborative design (this workshop is a bit more challenging to conduct, but with the right group this can be very effective.

When conducting Collaborative Workshops be sure to...

  1. make sure there is enough time to conduct the research, this process shouldn't feel or be rushed
  2. invite all key players
  3. bring tools of the trade - sharpies, sticky notes, paper, pen, 1-ups, 6-ups, tape

Structure of an effective Collaborative Workshop...

  1. Give paper/pen to everyone in the room (6-ups blank templates)
  2. Explain the design problem
  3. Give a set amount of time to solve and sketch the problem
  4. Make sure to walk around and help
  5. Discuss amongst the team

Structure of an effective Sketchboard Workshop...

  1. Get large sheet of paper and place all current sketches in a structure (using tape and sticky notes), you want to be able to roll it up so it can be shared
  2. Review and collaborate with others, make sure you explain all ideas and encourage the group to articulate ideas

The goal of these workshops is NOT approval, but rather discussion and critque of concepts. Negative feedback is a good thing and if you aren't getting it then push to receive it. Try holding a black hat session where for 30 minutes you collectively pick the ideas apart.

4. Be Politically Savy
As a UX Team of One we are not the only ones that care about user needs and goals, i.e.development, marketing, and researchers are all interested in users, we all just go about understanding and meeting those needs differently. Being an evalengist for users will often take more energy and yield little results. Try to do fun and engaging activities to illustrate the effectiveness of UX profession, i.e. engaging collaborative workshops, trading cards, posters. Or, get access to folks when they are a captive audience e.g., posters in a bathroom, lunch, cocktails. Design is a process that needs to be effectively promoted.

For UX professionals that need to work remotely with team members Leah recommends using Concept Share.

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