I attended the excellent UX Brighton goes for a Spin event last night, and the 2nd speaker, Dr Nick Reed from TRL, told us of a driving simulation experiment that they'd run that made me question whether my user awareness is everyone's responsibility theory is too narrow in scope.
He had told us about SARTRE, the car train research work that is being done by the EU (video concept here). This is the idea that driving would be safer if you had a professional lead driver, and all other following vehicles passed control to that lead driver. They would all follow each other at a safe distance and mimic their leader. From the project's about page
The programme will address the 3 cornerstones of transportation issues, environment, safety and congestion while at the same time encouraging driver acceptance through the increased “driver comfort”. The programme is addressing a concept that as a whole will facilitate a step change in the use of private transportation. The consideration of how platoons interact with other non-platoon users is a critical facet of the programme. This programme has a significant element of research that is looking into this aspect and this will provide clear strategies that will be implemented in the prototype system.
So safety and driver comfort is considered, and they also mention "how platoons interact with other non-platoon users" which I assume means the other road users who are not in the train. What would be the effect on them? Beyond the more obvious questions of how would people join or leave and how would people overtake, or enter/exit a motorway when a road train is steaming past (assuming the train is in the left hand (UK) lane) what would the affect be on the behaviour of other road users?
Nick told us of a driving simulation experiment they had run to look into this. Their findings (which I can't find a reference for annoyingly) seemed to suggest that if there was a convoy of vehicles who were all positioned closer together than the standard 2 second rule, other road users would also drive closer together. They would mimic the behaviour of the cars in the road train, but without their car being controlled by a lead driver, therefore putting themselves, and other road users, at greater risk than normal.
So, in this case, because of the seriousness and potential ramifications of the system, the awareness can't just be on the person in the car train but needs to be wider covering all other road users, including those not necessarily in scope for the product/service, but impacted by it.
Gosh, this is getting complicated...
Having decided to do a sampler as my 2nd rigid heddle project, I decided I'd use the color-and-weave sample set up from the Weaver's Idea book. I bought some Patons Diploma Gold 4ply in grey and cherry, switched to the 10dpi heddle and set up the warp according to the instructions - 101 different ends.
I started the weaving differently this time. Last time I started straight off with weaving the scarf, and had an inconsistent starting end that didn't please me. I read a few articles and then a comment in this article which suggested starting like
What the pros do (and I started doing since it’s what they do) is they throw 3 shots (weave 3 picks) and THEN beat those 3 picks (or shots) into place. This will even out the warp.
So, that's what I attempted. It also mentions doing the hemstitching at this point. So that's what I did. And then started the weaving project. And wasn't very happy. The warp still wasn't very vertical, and was still being pulled towards the centre. So I unwove it (is unwove a word?) and tried again. And then unwove again and decided that despite the rest of the comment above saying that the pros don't use a "header", I would. I'm not a pro, I don't plan to be a pro. I want to be able to produce nice things. And it's supposed to be about fun.
I did a quick google for header in the weaving context, and found this forum post which says:
I always weave a 'header' at the beginning to make sure everything is working as it should, testing my choices of weft yarns, checking for threading errors. Then for a shawl or scarf I advance the warp about 6" for a 3" twisted fringe or an inch or so if I'm hemstitching.
Which matches what it says in my Learning to Weave book that I'd neglected for a while.
So, I put a header in. Life is a bit short and my weaving opportunities are weekly, not daily, so I'd rather advance the rest of my skills, and maybe come back to this header/no header thing later, when everything else is sorted. I then left a gap of 4 or so inches, put in 3 picks of weft and hemstitched this to make a base for the main project. This seemed to work reasonably well but next time I might weave for longer before hemstitching the start as I was a bit cautious about how tight to do the hemstitching.
And so I started weaving, and soon realised that I wasn't actually getting the balanced weave I expected. So I remeasured my yarn on the ruler against an inch marker and decided that it was actually coming in as 24 rather than 20. So, divide by 2 means that a 12 dpi heddle would be better. Which I didn't have, so I ordered one (well a 12.5 one) which arrived during the week and is now oiled and ready.
I took a close look at the cloth I'd produced, and had a read of the Learning to Weave book and decided that as I wasn't going to be able to produce the sampler in a way that would show the different colour combinations off to their best, that I'd try some different things instead. So, I started off by just continuing for a further few inches to keep practicing getting the edges straight - and they're much improved on the last attempt. I then put a marker thread in (in red) and concentrated on beating the fabric down a lot lighter. This will be interesting to see if after a wash the yarn expands or not. I decided to ring the changes a bit, and practice colour changes and so did a few inches of 2 x red, 2 x grey as well. And then I jumped forward a few chapters in the Weaver's Idea book and tried using my 2nd, now empty, shuttle as a pick-up stick and did a few variations, which I really liked. My brain is already buzzing with possible combinations of colour and pick up stick use as ways to liven up a mainly plain woven scarf.
I finished the sampler with some loosely beaten plain weave, hemstitched 3 rows to match the start and removed it from the loom before giving it a wash on a 30 degree wool cycle in the machine and then pinning it out to dry.
I am beginning to understand why the suggestion is to do a sample for everything, despite the warping taking a while, as the fabric does look much different off the loom in a relaxed state than on the loom and under tension. For a start, the "gaps" that I was concerned about in the looser beaten weft are much less noticeable.
All in all, an enjoyable play project, a noticeable improvement on my scarf, a few more lessons learned and discoveries made. I'm reasonably pleased with the result and very pleased with the learnings.
Towards the end of last year we had a new security system fitted in the office. To gain entry to the office put a fob against a contact plate and the door is unlocked. The fact that it is unlocked is indicated by this light above the door.
Yes, it's a red light. To indicate that the door is now open.
When the door is locked, and we need to use our keyfob it looks like this.
Yes, it's a green light. To indicate that the door is locked.
When the engineer turned up to show us the system I asked him why the lights were this way around, he told me that it was because red was bad, and the fact that the door wasn't secured was a bad thing.
When this system was being designed it was, evidently, only thought of from the perspective of people interested in knowing the state of the security of the office, not the day to day office worker.
Every time I walk up to the door and look at the light, I have to use a small bit of cognitive power to work out whether the door is unlocked or not because from my perspective red means stop and green means go. Surely, that small amount of cognitive power would be better spent working on something to benefit the business, rather than working out whether I need to get the key fob out of my pocket. As Steve Krug says about usability on the web "Don't make me think".
(This has been winding me up for a while, but I thought it emphasised the point about having user awareness of all your consumers, not just the ones who have commissioned the service)
A few weeks ago Denise posted Is UX trying to kill branding or the other way round? which generated some interesting commentary.
In the post she says:
I’ve been thinking about UX for a long time. User experience. I keep asking people what it is. No one seems to want to tell me. ‘Am I a UX person, do you think?’ Blank looks.
If I got a job in UX, what would I do? More blank looks. ‘Wireframes..?’
Right. I must admit I thought it would be a bit more varied than that. It doesn’t sound very… ‘experiency’. I’ve got 5 senses and a whole lot of emotions, I sort of thought an ‘experience’ might engage more than one.
But I’m not trying to be difficult, I am actually trying to understand.
This is something I've thought about on and off over the past few years as well, trying to understand my role, as a (mostly) back-office developer, in this whole user experience thing. I got distracted wondering about the crossover of user experience and business analysis for a while but what follows here are links to some articles that I've been reading, and some thoughts/experiences of my own, as I tried to find an answer to that question. Incidentally, I've deliberately titled this post as user awareness rather than experience, as awareness is something I feel qualified to talk about, user experience, whatever it is, seems to be a discussion that a developer shouldn't be wading in to.
I don't believe in UX Design - which is in a similar vein to the Peter Merholz article/video that Denise posted
Why User Experience Is Different From Customer Experience - an article considering the existence of CX as well as UX
10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design - which includes the quote "User experience isn't just the responsibility of a department or a person" which I like and used as a base for some of my thinking
In the following paragraphs, I've used service to mean the product, website, thing that is being bought or sold. And I've used consumer to mean the direct consumer, the person using it, the customer. Replace the terms as you read with the ones that makes the most sense to you.
My belief is that the experience a consumer of a service has, is a shared responsibility amongst the providers of that service. In many cases, it doesn't start or end with a website experience. It includes the marketing and advertising that got the consumer to you in the first place. It includes the after care, the ongoing customer service. Having the best and most wonderfully created web site counts for little if the delivery service that gets the product to the consumer sucks (I'm looking at any business that uses Yodel or HDNL here!) or if a problem using the service isn't responded to in a helpful or timely manner.
Every touchpoint that a consumer can have with the service needs to be considered. Anything that can impact the consumer's overall experience needs to be thought about and worked with and any potential frustrations removed or at the very least reduced.
Everybody who has any form of responsibility to provide a service needs to know who the consumers are intended to be, and what their motivation is for using the service. Without this there can be no consistent understanding of the who and why questions (who are our users? why are they using our service?). This sounds so obvious, and yet I haven't worked anywhere that has produced high-level business personas. It has always been an assumed understanding.
Having an awareness of who the consumers are isn't just the job of a UX department, or the customer service department. Unless consumers are at the centre of the business, there is not going to be a sustainable business. Does having a department named "customer service" psychologically let every one else off the hook when it comes to thinking about customers?
So, where does that leave me, as a mainly back-office developer working on building robust, scaleable systems? Well, in my case, my main consumers are my fellow developers (who need to maintain, and build on top of, my systems) and the consultancy team (who need to be able to interact with my systems) — there's no reason why my consumers must be external after all.
I've already written about how I'm attempting to support my fellow developers via a thoughtful approach to error messages. Additionally we run a continuous integration environment, with unit testing, code analysis and now code coverage built in, which means that any developer should be able to work on any part of the system with confidence. We also have a visible dashboard to ensure that we're all aware of the current health of the systems.
From the consultancy team's perspective, I've been trying to make systems that support them, that automate the tedious aspects of their roles, freeing them up to focus on the value that they can add to the consumers of the end reports.
In the next couple of weeks we are going to be working on our IT strategy. We plan to start by trying to map the company out as a whole, from a business perspective - there is little point us coming up with a strategy that doesn't relate to the needs of the business as a whole so we've invited some of the consultants to join us. Our aim is to find the places where we can add the most value as a combined force. I'm keen for us to start by looking at who our consumers are, why they're using our service, and have them central to what we prioritise.
So, my answer to Denise's original question?
I’ve been thinking about UX for a long time. User experience. I keep asking people what it is. No one seems to want to tell me. ‘Am I a UX person, do you think?’
Based on all of this, my answer is "I'm none the wiser, but from what I know of you, you do think about things from a people perspective, and do ponder the who and why questions, and so are, what I would describe as, user-aware"
After having written about writing errors thoughtfully the other day I had a work related incident yesterday which, coupled with a conversation with a friend last night, made me think about the idea that the context in which you communicate the error message and the method you use makes a difference as well as just the content.
Part of the automated system I run is a module that sends emails to our consumers. Our prime recipient's email provider was having problems and emails were being rejected. The message that was in the bottom of the email was:
Remote Server returned '< #5.7.6 smtp; 551 5.7.6 [internal] STARTTLS required but not advertised>'
This message was definitely not a thoughtful error message targeted at the consumer. Neither had any consideration been given to how this message would be communicated back to the person/organisation. I had to phone my contact, and recite this to them. It was a moment of amusement to my colleagues as I was saying "left angle bracket space hash five dot..." etc. down the phone to a somewhat baffled contact.
As a result of this, I realise that not only do I need to continue to make sure that my error messages are easy to read but I also need to consider the method that may be used to tell me about that error as well.