Navigating WordPress.org

I love WordPress.com – the design templates are clean, fresh, and best of all, easy to use. On the other hand, its .org version is definitely trickier to navigate. My client had decided on WordPress.org and just needed someone to bring their website to life – what they didn’t know is that I had never touched it before. I figured that after all my web dev learning, I could wing it.

The first thing I discovered was that the .org version allows templates aka themes. You can either select a theme directly from the site or alternatively find a compatible one online and install it using a zip file. Be aware though that most free themes have limited modification options. After a couple days playing with different themes I came across Hogan Chua’s channel on YouTube and finalized on the super modifiable theme Themify Ultra. Check out his easy to follow tutorial here.

Now, you may know that WordPress.org uses widgets and plugins which I had a basic idea about but couldn’t have told you how they were different from each other. So, after a bit of reading online here’s my overly simplistic explanation:

  • Widgets are for appearances.
  • Some popular widgets are for displaying post stats, social icons + stats, archives, authors, and testimonials.
  • Plugins add functionality to a website – including functions that are visible.
  • Some popular plugins are designed for SEO, scheduled backups, contact forms, email marketing, security, caching for faster site loading, and photo and video galleries.

Read a much better (and thorough) explanation here. And it’s worth knowing that they’re not all created equal, i.e., beware of the ones that radically reduce the speed of your site.

Finally, using the design inspiration my client had provided, I put pen to paper to draw ideas before transferring them to a digital sandbox environment for play purposes. After receiving the go-ahead, I moved my final design over to my client’s site where it’s currently sitting ready to go live and I can’t wait until I can share it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Building an SEO focused Website

Last post I mentioned I had my first client. They’re a young international couple who decided to take a leap of faith, quit their respective careers, and open a cafe in Barcelona. From their business research, they knew they needed an SEO optimised website. This is where I came in.

As their cafe is currently overrun with builders and the like, we met at a cafe close by. We discussed their vision and they showed me a website that encapsulated the look they desired.  Clean and simple.

Back in my home office however, I  mentally shelved the design in lieu of focusing on the SEO research. In this post I discussed why SEO is so crucial to Web Design, however, one thing I didn’t mention was the order of things, so I’m here to tell you now – do it first! URLs are an integral part of SEO so make sure you choose them wisely. Over time, they build authority on Google so if they’re changed at a later date there will be a negative impact on their search rankings. If you have a client that is absolutely sure they want to change their URL, check out this step by step guide that’ll help reduce the impact.

My research method focused on keywords and phrases, recording page one results, and then determining which websites made repeat appearances. From this I could see who were the top bloggers, publishers, and review forums. These will be used for their off-site SEO strategy. From the repeat top cafe websites, I dug deeper into their on-site and off-site SEO strategies comparing keywords, page elements, and social media.

I’ve left the in-depth keyword trending research for when I’m up to the content stage. As for now, I am currently having fun building the website using WordPress.org.  More to come on how I conquered WordPress!

Wedding & other things

It’s been some time since I last wrote and although I wish I could say it was due to being busy as a UXer, I can’t.

Back in November, hubby and I were married on a beach in Portugal, among family, close friends, a few beach-goers, and even a legit fisherman. It was pretty magical even if I do say so myself. The best part was staying with both our families in a large country house for a few days so the Kiwis (mine) and Brazilians (his) could mix and mingle.

 

Wedding day at Adraga Beach, Portugal

 

After the honeymoon, my first UX contract had ended and I was back on the job hunt, in December which isn’t the most ideal time to look, especially in Barcelona which was suffering from the aftermath of the referendum.

As luck would have it, I/we got pregnant, and life went on pause while I entertained “morning sickness”. My plan to become a freelancer after a few years work experience was drastically reduced. As I have endometriosis, we did not expect it to happen so soon after deciding we were ready. But it did, and we were delighted.

Sadly, I miscarried a few weeks ago. The doctors told us to try again in a month or two.

In regards to UX, I’ve been practicing UI designs in Sketch, go to Daily UI for a UI challenge everyday for 100 days.

Oh, and today I’m meeting my first client. I’m building a website of a new cafe here in Barcelona and I get to incorporate all my web design skills which I’m pretty excited about. Stay tuned for more on this project!

 

 

 

Why knowing SEO is critical to UX

I’m a big fan of the guys on UX Podcast. One episode in particular had me wanting to learn more about Search Engine Optimisation so I went forth and enrolled in a SEO course online…as I do!

Prior to taking this SEO course I would’ve have said knowing SEO was only useful for UX Content Writers, but now I’m persuaded to say how relevant it is for ALL of us under the same tent.

Why?

  • In UX we say design mobile-first because most users’ engage websites via mobile devices. In SEO they say design mobile-first because Google Search penalises websites that aren’t mobile-responsive. According to the course material, non-mobile-responsive websites are excluded from first page search results.
  • When we design, words matter. In UX we learn that the design format needs to be adaptable for other languages. But, those same words should be used to optimise organic traffic to our sites (and products). Yet, if we get those words wrong, or overuse them, we become a target for Google Search penalties.

What does a Google Search penalty mean?

Google uses different algorithms in order to provide its users with less spam. A website that doesn’t pass an algorithm test for authenticity, reliability, and usefulness is given a penalty which means it will rank lower in Google search results.

So at the end of the day, what good is a well-designed website if it’s a struggle to find on the internet?

Update: This article just came up in suggested reading material; it’s a great checklist for getting your on-page SEO right so check it out.

 

 

Why skipping UX doesn’t save time or money.

Recent work with a start-up validated my belief in the importance of UX research and design.

Jumping into a project that had a near complete MVP, my tasks were to conduct usability tests and  benchmark analysis. Here’s what I knew:

  • They had a great idea.
  • They had expert knowledge and experience to be leaders in their field.
  • They had taken courses in UX/UI Design and Web Development so they could develop the product themselves. One of them also had a fine arts degree.
  • They had previously owned a successful non-digital company.
  • They had read ‘The Lean Startup‘ by Eric Ries in preparation for their business.

However, I soon learnt that in their mission to get up and running as fast as possible, they had skipped UX entirely and jumped straight from their idea to development. Left behind was crucial research with users, SME, and design and social media trends, as well as essential design thinking (User Personas, User Journey, wireframing and rapid prototyping that would allow testing). Inevitably, the “lean” approach set them back months.


The list:

  • From the choice of colours, lack of hierarchy, and absence of even one ‘call-to-action’, the UI dated it somewhere in the early 2000s. The logo was difficult to read and was recently redesigned by a UI expert. The same expert also recommended a huge overhaul of the UI in general. In 2017 users want clean design with easier, faster navigation.  
  • The product had been designed for desktops and was not mobile responsive. This wasn’t addressed until the UI expert came onboard.
  • They wanted to make users’ location and age mandatory in their public profiles. When I questioned this I got a bit of push-back, thankfully though they read more into it and came to realize that in recent years there has been a huge shift in users wanting more control over their security settings and public profiles.
  • The product (online education experience) requires daily interaction for a set number of weeks. Users, however, expect online learning courses to offer flexibility. The survey I conducted demonstrated that users did not want to study daily.
  • I was given more than 50 companies to research for the Benchmark Analysis. Initially, my plan was to reduce that list to the top four, however as I moved my way through the list checking the popularity of each one, I was floored by the number of companies who shared a similar vision, had been around for years, had great websites and apps (both in visuals and content), and yet were not popular. There was even one product owned by a world famous personality which had had barely any traffic since it was founded over a year ago.
  • As a UXer who’s also interested in web development, I was also surprised by the technology being used for the MVP. A week away from launch, a developer/ friend of a friend, agreed to help and yet again, everything needed to change. So not only was the UI set to change, the technology on which it was all based (and which they had been working on for months) was to be changed right before launch.

What I learned:

  1. I know more about UX Research and Design that I previously thought.
  2. If you have doubts about something, speak up.
  3. Share your knowledge even if it seems basic.
  4. Knowing design and social media trends can make or break a product.
  5. And after months of working on an MVP the “lean” way with very little research, they came to the conclusion they needed to start all over again, effectively costing the company more time and money than they anticipated.

 

Anthropology + UX

I’ll always remember my University Open Day. I hadn’t planned on going to university; I had wanted to go to Makeup Artistry School for years, but Open Day meant a free day from school, so I followed along with my friends.

The lectures I was interested in were Criminology, Sociology, Psychology, History, and Politics so I made sure to attend those. As we were waiting for one of the lectures to begin my friends were talking about this subject with a peculiar name, Anthropology. My initial reaction, I admit, was disdain so it’s ironic that after the lecture I determined that I would go to university and get a degree in Anthropology (and Political Science).

Honestly though, neither then or in the coming years would I have a clue what I would actually do with a degree in Anthropology. It seemed like such an archaic field. But I completed the major requirements, turned down an offer to do postgrad study in it, and went my merry little way to the International Relations department for my Masters.

Ten years later and I have finally discovered what a degree in Anthropology can do for a modern day career.

As a UXer your job will be to understand your users (and your clients’ needs). Your research could include interviews, focus groups, usability tests, and ethnographic studies. Anthropology is a field devoted to learning about the ‘other’ and employs the same methods. You learn to become a “participant observer” to the world around you, always analysing the what’s and why’s of culture, customs, and norms. You become an expert in observing behaviour. Best of all, you will know how to detach yourself emotionally from your designs to really understand the needs of your users.

Today, I’ve seen plenty of UX job descriptions asking for Anthropology backgrounds. It makes me so happy that the world has come around to acknowledging how awesome Anthropology is again!

 


For anyone interested to learn more about the link between Anthropology and UX see this, it’s the article I happened upon at the start of my UX journey when everything I was learning reminded me of being back in Anthropology classes.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.