UX Diary Part 1 – On The Front Line

Dear Diary,

Four years ago I came across an article about User Experience (UX). Little did I know that this would spark an adventure that would flip my career upside down and lead to a vigorous habit of noticing details in the process and design of any experience. This encompassed everything – from the roads we drive in, to the location that the electrical sockets are placed under my desk. Unfortunately in most cases I could not do anything other than notice and comment. But in one area I had the oppportunity to go beyond that and make a change – that area was my related to my own work on software products.

Well dear diary, we both know that if I got a dollar for every time I’ve had to explain what it means to be a UX engineer I would have retired already! However I think that people should be more concerned with what it means to be aware of what user experience means. Essentially, this simply means being consciously aware of the experience that you and others have when using a product or a service. I don’t need everyone in my organization to be a UX expert, but having people that are UX-aware would without doubt have a large impact in driving any company to make a product that simply feels better to use.

My excitement over landing my new job as a Front End Engineer in a leading Web company in the region where I live, was soon washed out by the realization that this is an agile, productivity-driven organization with no such title as a UX engineer. Nor is it mentioned at any point in my job description.

Faced with such a scenario, most people would very conveniently overlook any non-required tasks, especially in such a demanding job. But those with a passion to weave better experiences would not take any pride in their work if they do so.

This raises the question: ‘How can I deliver a better user experience through the product/service that I work on, without having the full resources, authority, or extra time allocated for me from the get go?’ A plan is called for I guess, so here is mine:

1. Be informed

Not only do I need to be well-informed when it comes to UX design but I must also be very knowledgeable about my organization. This includes the theoretical and practical dimensions of the organisation’s processess. Such knowledge will help me in identifying the key elements of these processes and in what departments they take place so as to incorporate better UX practices for a better product. This also requires a deep understanding of agile software project management and how to incorporate User Experience design in it. Another good place to start is by reading “Agile Experience Design: A Digital Designer’s Guide to Agile” by Lindsay Ratcliffe and Marc McNeill.

2. Be acquainted

As I plan to put myself on the front line to advocate on behalf of users, I need some people on my side too. Quite simply, I must get to know people in all of the key departments for the task at hand. In theory I should be able to find others who share some level of passion for creating amazing user experiences. Ideal people to get on-board would be:

  • Front-end engineers.
  • Members of the product development team.
  • The UI design team.
  • The marketing team.

3. Kick-start the conversation

Whether in a meeting or having small talk over the water cooler, voicing the user experience oriented concerns and suggestions that I have is essential.

I can start by sending out useful tips and articles to inform and inspire people in our organization to start taking the user experience into consideration. I might receive some interesting inputs to this conversation from others as well. A good tool to use (that’s rarely used for internal emails) could be an email client such as Mailchimp or ConstantContact. Not only do they help you build a visually-stimulating case but they also provide handy statistics and avoid clogging up the company’s mail servers.

4. Walk the walk

I must ensure that I always go that extra mile to improve whatever I produce in such a way that it offers a better user experience. I must also make a point of sharing any success that I make in this aspect with my team. In this way they will see tangible evidence. One good place to start within an agile development environment is by giving yourself enough space in your time frames at each iteration so as to make sure you do not cut any corners short of UX best practices.

5. Revisit the plan

I am a checklist kind of guy. So after I have a good understanding of what we can do for offering a better UX through our products, I need to revisit my plan and set up new milestones. This might involve asking to give people a couple of brown bag sessions, introduce A|B testing even if on a small scale at first, and ask for the analytics data already available.

6. Build a case for better UX

Although there are some great ways to “sell” usability to management, in the end there is a limit to what can be done without their full support. But getting this head start and keeping track of everything would help me make the case for better UX to them. It would address some key points in my UX ‘sales pitch’ such as what it is, why is it important for a results-driven company, what progress has been made so far, what more can be done more and how all of this would it reflect on the ROI for the company. For a results-driven panel or any serious company for that matter, this must be a data-backed case.

7. Go in with a spirit of generosity

I am willing to devote some of my own time to bring better UX practices to my organization, and there sure is a lot that can be done. I firmly believe that by donating this extra time with a devoted spirit of generosity, I will be more likely to earn a seat at the right tables … like product design and development for example, which is the most effective place to get involved for as UX designer – right at the front line.

I am giving my self one year to go through this plan. I know that this is not a rigid formula, but rather an evolving set of ideas that I am hoping would evolve into a conversation. Last but not least, I have to remind my self to chuck ego at the door and go in with an open mind set and a high sense of team spirit because in the end this has to be a team effort.

I am making a bid that I need not have an official UX title to bring better experience to users, and I hope that all of the other UX-aware people out there: developers, designer, architects, marketers, product development managers and the rest, would also be on the front line to advocate for better user experiences from their own positions.

About this series – UX Diary

As a UX enthusiast and a front-end engineer I have decided to try and truly bring UX best practices to the organization that I work in. UX diary is a small series of 5 articles documenting this journey with all of its lessons and bumps that I am hoping can help and inspire you, fellow UX enthusiasts to adopt and spread UX awareness in your work and organizations. Read the articles by clicking on the links below:

So stay tuned each week and please remember that I would love to hear your questions, thoughts, or suggestions. You can post them in the comments section.