Understanding UX

Understanding UX

How does UX design relate to dating? You'll have to listen to find out. In this episode, we gain a better understanding of all things UX from Speak's Senior UX Strategist, Lisa Hoover. Join us to get a little off topic with Lisa and Speak's VPs. 

Roberts: Hello everyone and thank you for joining us. You're listening to A Little Off Topic, one agency's water cooler chat on digital marketing, business, and all the things that get in the way, presented by Speak Creative. Let's get into it.

Kindra: We are back. Welcome to A Little Off Topic. Matt. Matt. Hello.

Roberts: Hey Kindra. How's it going?

Kindra: It's going well. Other Matt?

ErvinI'm glad to hear it's going well. It's going well for me too. That's a great intro.

Kindra: Great. Today we have one of Speaks brand strategists and our Senior UX strategist on the podcast today. So our resident user experience expert, she is the go-to for all things UX. Lisa Hoover. Welcome.

Lisa: Hello.

Kindra: So Lisa has credentials from the Nashville software school for UX and UI digital product design. Is that correct, Lisa?

Lisa: Yes, that is correct.

Kindra: So I'll kick us off with the first question, but we'll go from there. If you will, define for our audience, what is user experience design and maybe what is not user experience? I know that UI UX sometimes leads to confusion. Can you define it for us?

Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. As someone who's been doing user experience for a really long time, a big question that I get, and sometimes when talking to clients that overlaps, and you can hear that there's some misguidance there, but user experience really refers to the action or interaction between a user and a product or even a service. So it's more about engagement and how well that product is serving the user. So it incorporates market research, product development strategy, and a little bit of design. UI stands for user interface. UX stands for user experience, but UI usually focuses more on stylization, animation, and so on and so forth. So you can think about UX including strategies, so understanding the need of the user and the ethos of the business, the interaction for website apps and, where are buttons placed? What kind of animation will we require? Is it going to slow the user experience down? Is it going to make things a little bit more difficult for someone to find what they're looking for? Then you've got a user research specifically. So we're talking about actually meeting and going out and talking to people who are going to use the product. So the website or the app, or maybe even a system, and then from there we can develop personas/user journeys and then even do some usability testing and then user experience includes information architecture, which is a lot about the organization of content and what it says and the hierarchy. Some digital marketing experts might think of it in terms of a funnel, with the most important information at the top and then move them down. I would say user experience is pretty much everything to do with how one person engages with a product, how they feel about that product, and how we can make sure that they continue to engage with that product.

Ervin: That was a fantastic definition. Clarified misconceptions in my own head.

LisaI'm quite passionate about it and I did go to the nashville software school only to be frustrated in finding out that I've been doing this for a really long time and what people erroneously think is that user experience only has a place in digital products. They think it has to be a system or has to be a website or an app. But if you think about it, everything requires user experience. I mean, why has a shopping cart the height that it is? Why is the depth of the basket the depth than it is? Look at the evolution of the telephone. The first prototype to how we use it now. They didn't just change it because they just wanted to improve it or be stylistic. Sure, there were some points at which they were thinking, how can we make this design look sleek? But there was a requirement. The user needed for the phone to not be just speaking into it from the wall and you hold it up to your ear. Eventually it became all in one hand piece and that was revolutionary at the time. They didn't understand. They were like, "wow, I didn't even know I needed this" but it solved a problem. So it's been around since at least ancient Greeks I think even were considering how to use tools and things and how can we make them ergonomic so that they're easy to handle so it transcends almost everything?

Kindra: I'm just thinking about the stone and chisel tapping into a stone language. Surely they came up with some ways to optimize that and UX was born.

Lisa: You have to think about even road paintings, the dash between the straight line, which one worked? What resonated with the user, the driver? It's hard to remember that at some time, people had to explain how new things needed to be done and then there are some issues with how people actually engaged with it. We've got new drivers now on a road and we have to share that road. What's the best way to make sure that people stay safe in the lanes? Do we do a dash line? Do we do a solid line? Should it be white, red, green, purple, blue? Like what color resonates well? Which ones can you see better at night? There's just so much to think about and that sort of expansive thought process is really what makes user researchers and user strategists great. I mean, you really need to be a critical thinker, but you need to be able to think outside of yourself and empathize.

Kindra: Can you compare and contrast just how UX design is different from maybe a creative design?

Lisa: Sure. So people have asked that question before and normally I think user experience design should preface user interface, or if you want to say graphic design or website design or whatever sort of terms you want to associate it with, but mostly user design is setting you up for success. You want a graphic designer who can come in and choose the right color to make that call to action button so noticeable that they can't not want to click on it. But as a user researcher, I need to know where those users are going on the website to make sure that they want to find it and click on it. So then from there, someone has to make it engaging and dynamic and then cement the process if you will. So if you want to think of user research or user experience, but not necessarily as a design in a sense that we're not thinking too much and too heavily about what colors, usually when I hand it off to a designer, I'm thinking, I trust you to design this in a way that you see fit because of your experience and your knowledge with color and animation and just how the website should work in general. But then when I look at it, I should see that that CTA button stands out. It fits all the dynamics that I need in terms of user experience and user research.

Roberts: I'm curious because when we're walking through any a design process with a client it will ultimately be for their customers and their users and when we go through a process, we can do research on the front end and advise based on that research, but once that product actually gets out in the wild, whether that product is a website or something else, we obviously have the opportunity to measure how people actually use it and make choices and go back and advise the client on continuing to improve. Would that be considered part of your passion as well when it comes to UX? I mean, is measuring after the fact is that taken into account as well?

Lisa: Yeah, that's actually a really great question and I'm really glad that you touched on this because I am so passionate about helping people. Well, I started off as a product designer and then eventually, I got into the digital products. One of the things I've noticed about digital products especially is that it is so changing and organic. You can't necessarily always see someone engaging with the mouse or engaging with a shopping cart or anything that's really physical. Especially with digital products, I never would advise anyone to go out, build something and then let it lie. I mean, we take every precaution beforehand. You use qualitative and quantitative data to make a safe hypothesis and then you go through and you implement that hypothesis and then you decide, is this prototype going to work? Yes, based on all of this research. The next thing you do is watch, learn, and then basically re-establish, because at no point in time should you ever just assume that the first answer is the right answer. I mean, if we go back to the telephone, for example, could you imagine just sticking put with the way they had it originally and that design? You should always be watching and listening and reiterating new processes and new ideas. Even small tweaks can make such a huge difference. I'm hugely passionate about doing exactly that. We do all of the back work. We do all the research and we put together a really well laid out plan and then we watch to make sure that this hypothesis that we put together is working and then we make tweaks along the way. So I think any really good business would understand that that sort of investment is really going to have a huge impact on their ROI.

Roberts: Yeah, that's great. It puts me in mind of a little bit of what we talked about with Stephen a couple of weeks ago, where he was talking about mobile design and where we put the hamburger nav on a mobile site. Traditionally as he was saying, there are these two schools of thought. There's the idea that, well, people are used to it being in the upper right corner because that's just where it usually gets put. But then if we're actually thinking about the user and the size of their hand and how far it is to reach and screen size of devices and everything else, does it make more sense to put it actually in the lower right-hand corner so that it's more accessible? Those are the types of things that I would guess. That's just a very small microcosm of the types of conversations that we have as we go through this process with clients. But what you're getting at is in either case, regardless of the choice that's made based on the safe hypothesis that we come into it with, we need to look and actually see how people are behaving and then be willing to make iterative changes to improve it over.

Lisa: Exactly and I think you also did a really good job of explaining sort of another way that user experience design and UI design overlap. We should all know best practices. Yes, it's traditional to find it in the upper right-hand corner and as a UI designer, they should, if left to their own devices, naturally navigate that way because we are accustomed to finding the hamburger menu that way. But as user research or user experience designer, my goal is to challenge that hypothesis if necessary. So if we find out that their user actually isn't going up there to find it, then I need to tell the designer, I know that that's natural for the whole population just wants to go up there, but these specific users aren't going that direction. So we need to find somewhere else to put it. So my job is to almost challenge that status quo, if that challenge needs to be made. It would be really good on my behalf if I was to make that discovery through user research and usability testing.

RobertsI mean, it strikes me that somebody in your position has to be willing to be pretty brave with folks. We work with all kinds of different folks, but especially decision-makers usually have been in their role for a while and they know what they and know what they want and so to be able to come to someone with, "Here's actually how we feel people would benefit if we change the design. Your users would actually be better engaged." I can imagine that obviously you need to be able to be brave in that conversation, but also data helps you obviously back all that up.

Lisa: Oh, sure. One of the things I always say is "is it easier to ask someone on a date if you think they like you, or if you know they like you?" Right? At the end of the day, I mean, preferably I would rather ask someone on a date because I know they like me. I mean, does it always result in an excellent date? I mean, either way you don't really know. You've gotta sit, watch and learn. Right? But I mean, it's always easier if you have the data to prove that they like you, you're probably going to get a yes. If you apply the same concept to user research and user experience. I mean, as a business owner, what would you prefer? Would you prefer to just do the status quo because that's what you're used to or do you want to actually give your users what they're asking for and then see better return on investment? But at the end of the day, you never let anything just sit for a while. Obviously you need to get enough data to challenge it. But I think another really good quality for a user experience designer is to be able to nurture, because not everyone's going to want to give up the idea so quickly, are they? This is where you can say, "okay, well, if we're going to still put the hamburger menu in the top right corner, this is something that we're going to want to watch and we're going to want to make sure that it's actually working" and then prove either you're wrong or you're right.

Kindra: Lisa is saying this like it is so natural and it is to people like us, I guess, that work at a web agency. But what I find happens is that, when clients are coming for a redesign, 80% of the time, they haven't touched their website in years and so they forget that websites are living and breathing and that we can test and make a change a month after launch if it's not serving us. We get really into the data and what we think will work right now, but who's to say that our purple buttons aren't going to be offensive three months from now and we'll want to change them all. I think we are really used to the website being a living and breathing thing, but that is a big hurdle to cross for clients because I think they're like "well, this website is going to serve us for the next five years. Do we want the purple buttons?" And no, that's our starting point.

Ervin: Well, we printed the website three years ago, do we need to print some more copies of it now?

RobertsWell, this is a chance for me to plug our new process which, as the guy who's in charge of Sales and Marketing...

Kindra: A sales pitch? no.

RobertsSo skip ahead 30 seconds if you don't want to hear it, but we actually have a new design process called momentum, which actually gets our clients to a new place with their design and then actually puts them in a cadence of updates every six months to their website and the hope is that stuff like this, such as iterative design and exploration of how users are actually behaving will give you a much more solid product long term. If you enter into a cadence, the traditional 3 to 5 year redesign model just doesn't keep up with how your users are actually behaving. So if you're interested email hello@madebyspeak.com. Alright pitch is over.

Lisa: The great news is if you want to do it and you want to invest in some user research, you'll be working with me and I'm very very competent.

Roberts: Yes. Lisa's bringing it home. Alright.

Ervin: I have a question. You talked a little bit about challenging people and challenging conventions when we referenced the hamburger menu. One question I have is what do you think is the next big thing in UX? Or what's the next big convention that we've all really locked onto that you think may be changing because things are evolving?

Lisa: Well for that I would say hamburger menu, I would fall more under the purview of design, more than UX. As a UX researcher, I feel it's my job to know the hamburger menu and to be on top of design trends. But I would almost argue that maybe the designer needs to be in the dialogue. But honestly, if I had to pick a user experience trend, it would be to actually invest in it. The questions that I'm asked sometimes when I'm just focused on brand strategy work falls under UX purview and I just always want to say "if you had invested in some user experience, we could actually answer and define these things for you and build you such an amazing product." Sometimes I just don't understand why people don't make the investment more often than they are. So I would actually argue in terms of trend, that people actually not only invest in it, but then as Matt Roberts was saying, that you actually invest in a retainer, if you will, where we look at it and then re-analyze everything. So maybe I have answered your question. Maybe I haven't really.

Ervin: Actually you did and it was a better answer than I anticipated.

RobertsI think people feel so much safer in just working on working on norms that are established out in the marketplace. Norms only ever change if somebody actually tries to innovate and people actually see that they're adopting a new behavior. So if you follow the logic there, they're essentially investing in safe, older thinking and for somebody to make an investment in UX, what we're really saying is people are already behaving, or they would behave differently than the norms dictate if we gave them the option to. Let's go out and find out how they actually behave and how we can actually help your product be used to the maximum effect. That to me is really exciting. It's an uphill battle to want to convince somebody to invest in that way. Because it's easy to just rest on the norm. But that's a really great answer. I appreciate that at least.

Ervin: I like how you just defined innovation sideways there, Matt, where you said people do things the way that they've been doing them because they're used to it. What if we could give them another way to do that? Which that's innovation and I think what Lisa is talking about definitely drives innovation.

Lisa: We've even had user research here done at Speak where a client came in wanting specific deliverables because they thought X, Y, and Z was the direction that they needed to go. But when we did actually interview some of these parents who engage with this website, we found that what they were needing was actually not what the parents were asking for. So we were able to offer them something that actually meant more to their site and meant more to the parent and the user than what they initially thought was going to happen. I guess you just have to be a little bit brave to bring this to the table and say, I know this is what you're wanting, but actually we're not advised to give it to you.

ErvinThat's a very nice way of saying you're dead wrong.

Kindra: So this is the portion of our podcast, where we get a little off topic, if you will. As passionate as you are about UX design, you're also passionate about plants, true or false.

Lisa: Yeah. I'm sitting in a room with about 40, I think, right now.

Kindra: And most of them have names?

Lisa: Oh yes. Strong feminist women.

Ervin: That's awesome. Love it.

Lisa: I can list all 40, if you would, but I don't think that would be very entertaining.

KindraWe'll put that in the show notes. So with that in mind, you are my go-to for plant care. I just think maybe you could leave the listeners with your favorite plant care tip or favorite plant, whatever it might be. What would you tell a stranger about plants?

Lisa: Well I think the best advice I was ever given is always err on the side of letting your plant be dry rather than over watered, you can reccesuitate use a plant if it's been a little crispy or a little wilty, but it's hard to do that if you've overwatered them and you have what is called root rot. I've also been told, and this was actually really helpful because sometimes I'm thinking, "Oh gosh, now I have to really not focus on root rot. How do I make sure I'm not over-watering?" The best way to make sure you're not watering is frequency. Think more about frequency and rather than quantity, you can go 10 days and give it a good, nice saturated soaking and it will still be fine. But if you're giving it a saturated soaking every three days, it's probably going to be waterlogged.

Roberts: Preach.

Ervin: You're explaining to me how my children kill my plants during the summer.

Roberts: From myself, our panel today, and all of us at Speak. Thanks for getting a little off topic with us. If you liked today's episode, you'd love the content our team is cranking out on our blog. Head over to madebyspeak.com to check out the latest and greatest. If you enjoyed the show, subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform of choice and see you next time. 

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