User Personas and why they’re not as great as you think

The User Persona was presented to our class as an industry tool to be used at all times. Being the newbies we were, we never questioned their high position in the hierarchy of ux tools so it was a great surprise to me when a good friend of mine (a UX Researcher) and her husband (CEO of Optimal Workshop), were the first to caution me about overusing the User Persona. It didn’t take much for me to become aligned to their way of thinking.

If you’re new to UX yourself, let me give a short synopsis of what the User Persona is and why they’re used: A User Persona is a fictitious person that has been created using the data from the user research.  The person is given a face (via stock photos), a name and a number of other characteristics such as age, family, education, job, salary, hobbies, personality type, and the list goes on. The User Persona has pain points, predetermined mental modes based on current technology used, and a daily schedule with opportune moments to use the product being designed. It can be seen then that the creation of this person allows the designers to keep the users’ wants and needs front and centre of the design process.

So, why should we use restraint when creating User Personas when they can be so useful? Well, when you read the previous paragraph did the idea of creating such an exhaustive Persona tire you? Did you consider the time, and thus money, spent on creating a fictitious person that represents only a small slice of users? These are a couple of reasons that my friends had me consider. As they explained to me, User Personas are still relevant but keep them light so that you don’t waste time, money, and lose focus on the many other users. And of course, when designing a product it’s standard to create more than one User Persona, but at that end of the day do they really give justice to all the users. By focusing on only a few users, think about who is being excluded?

I followed up my friends advice by searching online to see what other UX experts had to say and I found similar thoughts out there on the interweb. However, my class mates didn’t share my enthusiasm and included very detailed User Personas in their project presentations. I understand their point of view, most of my classmates weren’t so interested in UX research, rather they wanted to focus on UI. Presenting a User Persona hides a lack of research and gives a non-UX audience the appearance of user consideration.

Finally, several of my classmates and myself attended an IxDA (Interaction Design Association) meeting held by eDreams ODIGEO last week. At the end of the presentations an audience member asked about the use of User Personas and to my delight the eDream UX Research team said that they rarely use them as one person could change between different User Personas as their travel needs change, so they have found that they’re not too helpful. Not only was it rewarding knowing that this time my classmates were hearing it straight from the experts, but it was also good knowing that my divergence from the class deliverables was validated out in the real world of UX.

In conclusion, don’t let User Personas and assumptions outweigh real research and real users.

 

 

 

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UX Design Bootcamp: pros + cons

Well folks, it’s been a while since I last posted. To be fair the course was intense so blogging my experiences as they happened dropped in priority. I’ll be writing a few posts dedicated to the different course modules and projects, but first I wanted to reflect on the overall experience of learning UX within a bootcamp experience.

The course:

Ironhack UX/UI Design Bootcamp, there are campuses in Barcelona, Madrid (Spain); Miami (Florida, US); Paris (France), and they recently announced a new campus in Mexico City (Mexico).

Course Curriculum:

  • Week 1. Google Venture Design Sprint + Design Thinking
  • Week 2.  User Research + Information Architecture
  • Week 3. Wireframing + Prototype
  • Week 4. User Interface + Aesthetics + Animations
  • Week 5. Design Systems
  • Week 6. HTML + CSS + Bootstrap
  • Week 9. Guest presentations

Teachers:

  • 5 “teachers”, 2 TAs, and 2 mentors all who are “experts” in their UX/UI specialization.

Pros: 

  • The course is practical so you put all the theory straight into practise.
  • You finish with a portfolio.
  • The “teachers” are “experts” … I put the quotation marks around “experts” on purpose as their years of experience is varied.
  • Ironhack hosts a lot of events so you can be networking for a position right from day one.
  • It’s only a few months which is great if you’re transitioning from your career and unsure if you’re willing to return to university full-time.
  • Small class sizes (15 students in our class) – though that number can fluctuate depending on the season.
  • Excellent content and unlimited access to the learning platform at the completion of the course.

Cons:

  • The course goes so fast that there are lot of things you have to put aside to read or practice at the end of the course.
  • The “teachers” may be “experts” in their field but they are NOT teachers. We made official complaints with the management and suggested that all “teachers” be required to take a short teaching course. I really hope that this is something that changes for future courses. But at least these “teachers” were good at helping us out individually and in groups during project hours.
  • The cost: 6,500€
  • Say goodbye to your social life, weekends, evenings, sleep, exercise, real food.
  • At the end of the day they are a business so expect business decisions over educational decisions.

 

Final word:

At the end of the day would I recommend the course? Yes

Yes because I’m happy with what I learnt and the practical nature of the course. There was a lot of real insight and the best part is that it’s a shortcut to becoming a UX/UI professional and you can learn so much more on the job.

But, if you want an in-depth theoretical knowledge and a university degree on your CV/Resume you might want to give the ‘bootcamp’ approach a miss.

 

“Fall in love with the user!” – UX/UI Design Bootcamp week one

It’s a few weeks into the bootcamp and it’s time to review what we’ve done so far.

In week one, we hit the ground running with a Google Venture Design Sprint. We used Bloom Box for our project.  GV suggests 7 people per team, but with 15 students in the class we divided into 3 teams of 5. Each day has a different objective which ensures that you focus on producing something testable as opposed to taking long periods of time to create the perfect product.

Monday – Map

Research the product, obtain qualitative and quantitative data, map the users current steps (5-15 steps). Discover the pain points. Use assumptions to create sprint questions and How Might We’s (HMW), eg. how might we help the user to notice the donate button. Create the storyboard.

User Map

User Map

Tuesday – Sketch

Be creative. Use brainstorms, mind maps, and “crazy 8’s” to get ideas flowing. Using those ideas create 3 sketches of the product (individually). Keep the materials uniform so designers cannot be identified.

IMG_2702

Lightning Demos.

Wednesday – Decide

Post all sketches on the walls – no names should be on any design. Silently review the different designs; attach stickers to elements/designs that catch your eye, use post-its to ask questions for the designer. Afterward, go around sketch by sketch, have someone explain the design (not the designer), answer the questions, and then allow the designer to clarify any points. Switch to different stickers (one or two per person) and vote for design to use for the Design Sprint. Create the storyboard.

IMG_20170614_113828

Art Gallery

Thursday – Prototype

Divide into roles: maker (makes the prototype); icon collector (selects icons to use); stitcher (ensures that all elements are consistent); writer (content writing); interviewer (prepares interview questions and script). Build the prototype!

Friday – Interview

Have 5 persons test the prototype – ensure that they know you are testing the product design and NOT them. Watch their reactions and listen for their responses. Review the interviews. Find similarities in their pain points.

Summary

A couple of things that stood out for me were:

  1. Fall in love with the user NOT the design! The reality is the design will change, and change, and change again as you test your product with different users. That’s ok! Don’t take it personally that they don’t understand your design – see it as a problem solving challenge.
  2. Team work! It’s pretty amazing sharing ideas, discussing differences, getting stuck, and then solving a problem together.

UX + Anthropology

I’ll always remember the first time I was introduced to Anthropology. It was the local University Open Day and I was attending because it meant a day off school – for the record, I had planned on becoming a Special Effects Makeup Artist since I was 12. There I was  waiting for the School of Social Cultural Studies lecture when a couple of friends started discussing ‘Anthropology’, and I just stood there lost – I had no idea what it was. An hour later and I had decided that I was going to university and Anthropology was going to be one of my majors.

So, what is Anthropology, why did it interest me enough to completely change my career aspirations, and how does it relate to UX?

Anthropology literally means ‘the study of humanity’ – and in the context of Cultural Anthropology which was my focus, it is the study of culture, religion, rituals, symbols, social relations, and so forth. We studied indigenous tribes as well as our own social groups. Honestly, it’s an absolutely fascinating subject and so necessary in today’s messy globalised world.

Bronislaw Malinowski (1884 – 1942), one of the most influential modern day Anthropologists, said, “the final goal … is to grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realise his vision of his world”. In sum, we learn about ‘the other’, we try to extract our prejudices and we discover more as we become ‘participant-observers’. In UX research we learn to discover the ‘other’ too; we learn what the users’ wants, needs, and their behaviours, and leave behind our presumptions.

As I’ve been learning UX I’m constantly being reminded of my major. Funny thing is, as much as I personally loved how Anthropology made me think, I never thought it would lead to a tangible career.  A professor once asked me if I would be interested in post-graduate studies in the subject but instead I chose the more ‘promising’ Masters’ degree in International Relations. I love the way life has brought me back to doing ethnographic research again.

For a better analysis of how Anthropologists suit UX, make sure to read this article.

Sketch Time!

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 12.38.05

I finally got to jump on Sketch and have some fun. For a first time Sketch user (who’s never used Photoshop or Illustrator, etc), I think this turned out pretty well. The instructions were to create a login page using the following:

– Main background colour: #E0F7FA
– Text box colour: White with opacity of your choice
– Font: #575E5E
– Border colour: #00838F, solid 3px
– Add a login button, translucent image and a couple of icons.

As this isn’t work I need to submit I made some adaptions.

  1. Placed an oval behind the bird, included the same border colour but reduced size, and added shadow. The bird I chose was originally gold; I adapted the hue, saturation brightness, and contrast until it could blend with the colour scheme, and not be too dominant or transparent. I also added a shadow.
  2. The 3px borders were hideous so I radically reduced them and added inner shadow.
  3. I downloaded a Font plugin for the symbols.
  4. I did NOT use the grid/alignment tools which should be pretty evident as the login button should be moved slightly to the left.

NB. I’m also not a fan of the colour scheme.

 

 

Moving on from Web Dev to UX

My UX/UI course starts in two weeks so I’ve made the switch to studying UX/UI full-time. The completion of my final Web Dev project will be done as time permits, however I feel really good about my understanding of HTML, CSS, and most importantly Javascript to confidently work with Developer teams.

Here’s an excellent piece on Medium explaining why UX designers should learn some code. Further, the two UX designers I spoke with when switching to the UX course both stressed to me the importance of learning the ‘language, possibilities and limitations’ of coders by studying on the side, HTML, CSS, Javascript, plus relevant libraries and frameworks.

From now on I’ll be sharing UX/UI articles I find useful and providing my thoughts and ideas from these.

SYNTAX ERROR

Life of a coding beginner:

Just spent a good 30 minutes trying to figure out why I kept getting this error: res.render() is not a function, when according to this , it absolutely is a function used within Express (a framework for NodeJS). First, I checked every line, then checked them again; next I compared my code with the solution code, and did that a few times too; and finally, I looked for the problem on StackOverflow which is where I discovered my error.

Here are a few lines of code – see if you can find the problem. The answer is at the end.

app.get(“/”, function(req, res){
res.render(“home”);
});

app.post(“/addfriend”, function(res, req){
var newFriend = req.body.newFriend;
friends.push(newFriend);
res.redirect(“/friends”);
});

app.get(“/friends”, function(req, res){
res.render(“friends”, {friends:friends});
});

Did you see it? I wrote (res, req) once instead of (req, res).

So there you have it – sometimes it’s the smallest, stupidest things that cause your code to not function properly. Honestly, learning how to code is an awesome way to learn patience and perseverance!

Courses for Web Dev Noobs

So you’ve decided to learn how to make your own website or app without a go-to template. Here I recommend what to study and where to study it.

Before signing up for any Web Development Bootcamp you will want to learn as much as you can because the bootcamps are intense and you’ll get left behind if you don’t do any prior work. My first foray into Web Dev was on Khan Academy, then I switched to Codecademy (it was recommended for my Bootcamp technical interview), and then onto a couple of Bootcamps, one onsite and the other online. Here are the pros and cons for each:

  • I. Khan Academy
    • Pros: The videos and exercises are short and quick; the teacher is great at talking you through the process which is great for beginners.
    • Cons: Although you can do the courses in any order, the intro to JS is listed before HTML and CSS. Honestly, I think it’s better to build up your skills and confidence starting from HTML, then CSS, then Javascript.

  • Codeacademy
    • Pros: It’s an extensive course, and it has some great “real-life” exercises so you can code something you could potentially use in real life, for example, you’ll create an online phone book with a search function, and a cash register.
    • There’s a great online community whenever you need help, or you could use the hints given for each exercise.
    • Cons: It’s text based so sometimes your comprehension will be weak, not because you’re not intelligent, but because you don’t have any previous coding knowledge.
    • The names given for variables or placeholders can be confusing. I found others online who had also been confused by some of the names so had shared alternative options that helped to separate the necessary syntax from the arbitrary names.

  • Ironhack Web Development Course
    • Pros: This is an onsite Bootcamp, the type I think are worth the money (they cost thousands) if you have done a lot of preparation prior to the course starting, need external motivation to really push yourself to learn, and want a job at the end of the course.
    • To be honest, I was only in the course for a week and a half so I can’t say too much about the whole experience. It was on the course though that I learnt about UX design and had that moment of, “OMG that’s exactly what I’m looking for!” and asked to change courses. The manager was great enough to introduce me to a recent UX graduate and a UX designer who did the Web Development course to enhance her UX career so I could make an informed decision.
    • If I had the money I would actually take both courses but considering that I can, and have been learning Web Development online for the past year I know that I have the motivation and determination required without the need for a “boss” to push me. At the end of the day, when it comes time to presenting myself to potential employers I want to be recognised as a UX Designer, but knowing how to code myself will give me more opportunities as smaller companies do not always have the luxury of separating the roles of frontend and UX design. Further, knowing the technical side will help me as I collaborate with frontend developers – I’ll know what’s possible, what’s not, and the terminology in-between.
    • Cons: Onsite Web Development Bootcamps are expensive so you definitely want to do your research to make sure you’re choosing the right one for you. I choose Ironhack because I liked how they had switched from teaching Ruby to Javascript in order to match employers needs.
    • There are people from all backgrounds in the course so there’s a good chance you’ll have Computer Science graduates who want to retrain in a new language, or engineers. Having these guys in the class can be intimidating, and as the exercises are set for the best in the class, you’ll need to set yourself manageable goals to create your own “success”. In reality, in the course, or in any Computer Science degree, it’s all about learning how to learn and being aware of certain languages and tools, so that you can create what you need when the time comes. At the beginning I wanted to know that I knew Javascript, but now I’m confident enough in my way of thinking that I know I’ll be able to use the logic and tools necessary to accomplish challenges when given them.

  • CS50 Introduction to Computer Science (Edx, Harvard Univeristy)
    • Pros: If you haven’t done this course yet then I highly recommend it! The teacher, Professor David J. Malan from Harvard University, is so enthusiastic about Computer Science that you’ll be entertained the whole way through. In this course you’ll learn the theory behind the web and refine your problem solving strategies. Knowing the theory is another piece of the Web Developers puzzle which will help you understand the practical (i.e writing code) better.
    • Cons: The course mainly teaches C, which is an old computer language you will never use, however, don’t be swayed by that as learning a computer language is the same as learning any language, once you know one it’s easier to learn another. C in particular has been around for so long that many newer computer languages were created from it.

  • Logical and Critical Thinking (FutureLearn, University of Auckland)
    • Pros: When you get to that stage where you realise you have to fast forward your ability to think logically, take this course!!! My fiancé has a degree in Computer Science and he tells me that similar logic courses were required in his degree. These courses are taught outside the CS departments, but they’re required as they help students learn different ways to think “logically”. Honestly, after taking this course, Javascript made so much more sense to me.
    • Cons: You might think you don’t want to “waste time” taking this course when you can just learn Javascript. Don’t think that way. This course will honestly help you move through your Javascript courses and exercises at a much faster pace.

  • The Web Developer Bootcamp (Udemy)
    •  Pros: The BEST course online!!! It’s taught by Colt Steele who has been the Lead Instructor and Curriculum Designer for onsite Bootcamps in San Francisco. Seriously, this course works through the different tools and technologies step by step. He knows his audience well (beginners trying not to sink in a world of new tech terminology) so he explains everything in such a way that you’ll fill your gaps of knowledge and feel confident in yourself.
    • If you don’t understand something, stop, rewind, and play again!
    • You’ll make some seriously cool projects.
    • Cons: I recommend you to create your own personal projects as well so you can become more of an independent developer. You’ll need to get some help either from a friend who knows Web Development or use an online community.

Intro to {HTML + CSS + Javascript + NodeJS}

There are two sides of creating a website or app: design and code. My journey to UX begins at code:

  • HTML consists of <tags> that lay the structural foundation to all websites. I learnt HTML (along with CSS, Javascript etc), through Khan Academy, Codecademy, and two web development bootcamps (I’ll talk about them later). The latter two could have been deemed superfluous, but it’s good practice to play around with forms, drop-downs, nav bars, and radios.
  • CSS makes HTML look good; it’s the paint on the new house, the hair products for that hair cut, the adjective to the noun, the … well, you get the idea, CSS is all about styling HTML. It can be placed directly to the HTML document, or as a separate document linked to it. The latter option is preferable for a few reasons, but here’s a very popular, time economic reason: one style sheet can be linked to multiple pages.  Let me demonstrate this:
    • Website, webpage 1, HTML document tagging: <p class=”paragraph”>ipsum lorem</p>
    • Website, webpage 2, HTML document tagging: <p class=”paragraph”>ipsum lorem</p>
    • CSS document for BOTH webpages: .paragraph { font-family: sans-serif }

For a fabulous look at the POWER and AWESOMENESS of CSS check out csszengarden – it’s so creatively dreamy.

  • Javascript is where the “nerdy” logic comes in. I was never one to take Maths seriously at school so jumping into JS was a bit scary at first but I quickly discovered how much I enjoy the challenges.  If you’re new to logical thinking then I highly recommend taking a logic course like this free one on FutureLearn. It’s a course on logic and critical thinking from the University of Auckland.

The reason why I recommend taking a logic course first is based on my own and fellow bootcamp-colleagues experiences. Initially I started out learning vanilla JS and despite being ok at it, I was conscious that my brain was having to think differently than I was used to. As the challenges got harder I needed a more efficient way to complete the tasks. Taking the logic course helped me to step back and really understand the process of logical thinking, and I can honestly say that when I went back to JS, I could naturally and confidently work my way through even the toughest challenges.

So what exactly is Javascript? JS is a computer language that originally existed only on the “frontend” of a website – and that’s where you’ll begin your JS journey (I’ll explain later how you’ll use JS in the “backend”). JS allows you to input code to the computer in which certain data on your website will be executed according to the different user. For example, you know those fun online quizzes that determine the country you should live in or career you take? Well as a user, you select the statements that suit you best and at the end JS basically works behind the scenes through what’s called a conditional statement in order to show you a country or career that is specific to you. The logic would look something like this:

if(user answer === a){

console.log(“You got Canada!”)

} else if(user answer === b){

console.log(“You got France!”)

} else {

console.log(“You got Thailand!”)

}

In English, that translates to:

If the users’ answer is equal to ‘a’ (in other words, is ‘a’), print “You got Canada!”, and so forth.

Obviously we would need a lot more code for a full quiz, and we would probably want to work with functions, but they’re another story. JS can also use users data to personalise their session. See this logic:

var username = prompt(“What’s your name?”) ==>I’ll type in ‘Michelle’

console.log(“Welcome ” + username);

Basically in this scenario your browser will execute a ‘pop up’ prompt with the question and space for the user to input text. Once the text is entered, the browser will then execute ‘Welcome Michelle’. Pretty cool huh?!

Javascript is logic and syntax to store data, execute code, make website elements literally move across the screen, toggle colours, change photos, and much more. Honestly, what you can do with JS is pretty awesome so getting through the initial learning curve of learning code is so worth it.

  • NodeJS is Javascript on the server side, or the backend. At the frontend you have to use HTML, CSS and  Javascript as those are the only languages a browser can read. At the backend though you have plenty of options to use other languages: Ruby, PHP, Python etc. However, it makes sense as a noob to learn the backend with Javascript to really consolidate what you have learned so far. With NodeJS data is stored in the server, not the browser, making websites and apps truly dynamic. The logic is still the same but the code is written directly to the computers’ terminal* as opposed to a document.

*You will need to learn how to use your computers’ terminal (or command line). Tutorials can be found on all the courses I linked above.


 

  • Libraries and Frameworks: It’s worth knowing that there are libraries and frameworks that have all the code you’d ever want – and it’s all there already written for you. Some would argue that Computer Science is changing from having to know logic to knowing what libraries exist and how to use them. Although they are incredibly useful, I believe it’s essential to learn “vanilla” CSS and Javascript first so you know what’s going on behind the pre-written code. That way, if you have any bugs or want to make small changes you can easily do so.

 

And that, my friends, begins my journey into Web Development.