DU001 – Untangling Design
In this first episode Chris and Carla give a quick overview of why it can be hard to get started in UX.
They talk about some common UX portfolio problems and why personas can drive you to play the ukulele.
The UX Mentorship Program
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The Design Untangled Podcast
Episode: DU001 – Untangling Design
Hosts: Chris Mears and Carla Lindarte
[00:17] Chris: Hello everyone. Welcome to the first episode of Design Untangled with me Chris Mears and my colleague co-host Carla Lindarte.
[00:26] Carla: Hello everyone. I’m Carla. Nice to meet you all. Carla, I work as Associate Creative Director for Experience Design. That sounds really long, but basically I just lead a lot of UX projects in an agency called Sapient Razorfish. I’ve been working in UX for about 10 years, so I’ve got a lot of experience in different sides of it. What about you, Chris? Who are you?
[00:53] Chris: That’s a very existential question, but I am also a UX designer, service designer, whatever you want to brand me as, so again, working in UX, around it for about 10 years or so. Various different public and private sector clients. Yeah, so that’s us and I guess we’ll start by, I think this first episode is just really going to be framing why we’re doing this, what we think the issue that needs resolving is, and then following episodes we’ll be covering certain topics. So I think the main angle and the main thing we’re seeing is we get a lot of questions from some of our new UX mentees on our mentorship program which we run, and they’re along the lines of what’s the difference between a user flow and a user journey, stuff like that, which are valid questions, but I think the problem is the mindset is not the right one, and actually they’re all just different tools you can use to get a particular answer that you want, and a lot of these courses, they’re kind of pumping out graduates with sort of an ideal UX process, so do some research, do some personas, do some wire frames, prototype, whatever it is and actually in the real world, that’s never going to happen more or less 100% of the time, I would say. So I think it’s about helping people learn to understand what tools UXers have available, how to apply them, when to apply them and actually understand what they’re good for, and how they help you get closer to understanding your users.
[02:35] Carla: Yeah, exactly. So I think that’s why this podcast is called Untangled because we want to, you know, episode by episode, try to define and demystify all this jargon that goes across the user experience or design as a whole. So as Chris was saying, it’s not just about deliverables. I have to say that in the real world, people are also obsessed with deliverables. Like in my experience, people just want personas because they think they always need to have personas, or oh, is that user flow? We need to have a user flow. Oh, is that user journey? So it’s not about that. It’s about the question that we’re trying to answer and the best design tool that we have to communicate the answer to that question. That is the problem that we’re trying to solve as UX designers.
So today we are just going to introduce what we do and we would like to get everyone to also feedback to us and let us know what you want us to talk about. But today we’re just going to start with the basic terminology that I think we all question ourselves. You know, what is a user flow? What is a user journey? So what do you think are the differences between those two? Do you think that it actually matters?
[03:57] Chris: I don’t think it matters. I think people use those terms interchangeably a lot, which is probably not particularly helpful, and I would use the user journey kind of as a more conceptual thing, understanding how people move through, not necessarily just online, but it could be offline interactions and touchpoints they have with you, whereas the user flow, I’d probably use that to describe how they move through a bunch of typically sort of screens that you might have designed.
[04:29] Carla: I think the flow is more like a task, one task at a time. So if you think about, I don’t know, getting an Uber. You think about the task flow as being the action of booking the Uber, so just getting this is where my location is, this is where I’m going. That’s kind of a user flow, a task flow, whereas the user journey is more like what is the process I follow to find what’s Uber then download the app, then register, then book a taxi or something. So I think that is in my mind, the differences between those two. But at the end of the day, who cares about what we call them. It’s all about what we’re trying to communicate, so as you said, if you are more in the conceptual stage and you want to look at the journey end to end, you just need to map that out, and whether you call it your user journey or I also heard people call it scenarios as well, or customer journeys, which are pretty much the same thing. It’s just the way you communicate it. Sometimes people use sketches to kind of show the particular context of the user interacting with certain touchpoints, or sometimes they use stories, so they just tell the story and then they use the screen to visualize what the touchpoint is actually doing. It doesn’t really matter. It’s about what you’re trying to communicate, and deliver that message to your audience, whoever that is, if it’s a client or even the actual users as well.
[06:14] Chris: Just so we’re not tangling people up on our first episode, is it worth describing what a touchpoint is?
[06:20] Carla: Yeah. Touchpoint. That’s very good. So sorry about the jargon. A touchpoint is just basically a user interaction, isn’t it? How do you define a touchpoint? A touchpoint could be an app, an interface with an app. a touchpoint could be the branch as well if you’re talking to someone in a branch. A touchpoint could be a tablet, a kiosk kind of tablet that is in a store or I think a touchpoint is every time a customer interacts with a particular brand digitally. Is that how you would define it?
[06:57] Chris: Pretty much. I think it’s just any interaction they have, typically with the brands that you’re working for at that time, and that helps them kind of get towards their end goal, really. And I think it’s anything more than that. Again, it’s another piece of jargony stuff that gets floated around, but yeah, it’s just whenever the user is doing something that involves the person that you’re designing whatever it is you’re designing for.
[07:24] Carla: Exactly. So I was reflecting on the point that you made when we started, it was about students in a course here and there. I was recently being a mentor for a master class for a kind of a… it’s like a company, like a start-up where people go and find jobs and stuff, so they match people within the industry with junior UX. A visual designer is looking for a job, so you go and it’s a setup of different tables, so there was a lot of ACDs and Creative Directors from different agencies, and there was also the Google table that obviously had the most expensive…. Yeah, the Google table was the only table that had chips and food on the table. The rest of us, we didn’t need anything during the night, but there you go. That’s what happens.
[08:18] Chris: No plates? So it was just on the table?
[08:19] Carla: Yes, it was really funny because all the people who were…the purpose of this event is that the people come to you to show their portfolio and you give them feedback on the folio. So it’s interesting that everyone wants to sit in the Google table and not many people wanted to sit at the rest of the tables, which is really funny, but I met very interesting people that day, and I met a lot of people who just graduated from a Course or a Master’s degree or something like that. And they were showing me their folio and obviously, a lot of them don’t have any kind of real work experience. Right. But then when you look at the folios, even though you’re not obviously your junior, you don’t necessarily need to have any real world experience.
The case studies that they put together are briefs that they obviously they come up with themselves, which is fine, but then the way they deliver them, it was like having a check box. Okay, do I have a user flow? Yes or no? Do I have a Y-frame? Yes or no? Do I have a style guide? Yes or no? So every case study looked exactly the same so they just had followed this process, and I understand processes and frameworks and methodologist exists because there’s a way of people to think about a problem, and I understand that there is a process that you have to follow, but it is never the same. So some of my feedback to these people was like, it looks great, but it looks like just a check box of things that you put in there. So you think that if I’m looking for someone to come into my UX team, I need to make sure that in their folio they have a user flow. It’s not about that, isn’t it? It’s about how they think about a problem, even if they didn’t have a visual representation of every single deliverable, but you want to see is how they solve the problem, even if it wasn’t a real problem, you know?
[10:26] Chris: Yeah. I mean the first thing they normally ask in any interview… basically the classic tactic is to stop putting restrictions and constraints. If you’re doing any design exercise, they’ll say, oh, what if you didn’t have any time to do some research? Or what if you couldn’t do personas? And I think the risk is that students have been kind of so drilled into you need to do this and then this goes into this, and this feeds into this that it can be a struggle to think outside the box and understand what you really need to do to solve the problem.
[11:01] Carla: Yeah, exactly. So it’s fine obviously, because I understand they come from university, they’ve been told they have to follow a process. However, I would recommend for people who are building their portfolio for the first time to even if you have a [unclear:] non-free a world brief, if you just set yourself the challenge of redesigning Instagram for example, you just need to really try to solve the problem rather than just coming up with deliverables, which is…I know you have to kind of show that in your folio, but I think for me it’s about honesty. It’s about showing who you are through the work that you are putting on your folio, and it’s about really thinking about the problem, framing the problem, solving it and it doesn’t matter what you use for it. You don’t always need to do personas. Actually, I don’t really believe sometimes in the value of personas, but maybe that’s another topic for a different episode
[11:59] Chris: Yeah, that’s a whole other episode.
[12:02] Carla: But it’s just about how you think about the problem and how you solve it, the most important thing
[12:08] Chris: You know you’ve got a design toolkit at your disposal. You might not always have all of the tools available. You’ve got to understand how to kind of fit those together to get to where you want to go.
[12:19] Carla: Yeah, exactly. And it’s also about trying out new things. Every day I try a new thing like for example, now I’m trying a new frame or to deliver one of the projects I’m working on. I don’t know if you’ve read the book, I think it’s called Jobs to be done. It’s a new kind of innovation and customer centric methodology, which is quite actually quite simple. It removes the view of, okay, you have to have personas at the demographics and different behaviours. It’s just about defining what are the jobs between functional and emotional jobs that a user is trying to achieve and why they’re doing it. So it’s not just so much about buying a product, it’s about why people buy that particular product and trying to come up with new, extra products and services to be able to fulfill the whole picture of the person interacting with that, and I was reading the book and I was like, why don’t I try this next time? I mean I haven’t done it before, but I’m just going to give it a go, and I think that’s something that we need to allow ourselves to do. Things evolve, like personas for example, or user flows and all these things. Maybe they were more used from popular a few years back, but every day there are new methodologies and I don’t think we should just get obsessed with always changing, but it’s always good to give yourself a bit of flexibility of trying new things. What do you think, Chris? I always try to, always try new tools.
[13:58] Chris: Yeah, I know. I like doing the same thing exactly…every day…minute by minute.
[14:01] Carla: I know you do. That’s the kind of guy you are.
[14:07] Chris: No, I think that’s right. I mean they’re all just methods to understand your users better. Some work better than others in different scenarios. You’re not going to know till you try it. If you just stick rigidly to the eight point plan that you may be used to from your course or whatever it is, then you’re probably going to struggle a bit when you come up to some maybe resistance from the business or you don’t have enough budget or whatever it is. So I think thinking outside the box is a key skill.
[14:37] Carla: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. I think you have to just try new things and adapt yourself and your approach to whatever is coming up. And it doesn’t matter if you haven’t got the experience. I mean you just need to give it a go and try to convince yourselves and people around you that you’re doing the right thing, and you’re probably doing it. It’s just being confident that you are just trying to look at what the problem is, how you help that user to do what they want to do. It’s as simple as that. I know it sounds really simplistic, but it’s basically what we need to do, but people just overcomplicate it with deliverables and stuff. I remember when I was working in my previous job, it was just like we all [unclear; 15:24] sell projects, and it was just a list of deliverables. So we have to do user journeys, we have to do personas, we have to do this, we have to do that, and I got to the point that took him to the same client, I thought, okay, for the next phase of this project, can we just focus on hypothesis? So what are the hypotheses that we’re trying to prove or disprove? so can we just focus on that and depending on the kind of question that we are trying to answer, we decide what we are going to use. Are we going to use a prototype? Are we going to use a user flow or sitemap or whatever? So let’s just focus on questions rather than deliverables. And it is a big mind shift because especially if you worked in consultancy and agencies, what people are selling is deliverables, so it is hard to change the mentality, but I think it’s important for us as designers that we understand that you don’t always need to go through the list of stuff that they tell you at university. It’s all about trying to solve the right problem at the right time.
[16:39] Chris: Yeah, and also using those tools as a way to get the team to understand the user as well. So there’s no point, you sort of sitting on your own coming up with these crazy personas, and then people don’t actually understand how you got to that point. They weren’t involved in the research. It’s just a thing that you kind of hand over. Nobody cares. Essentially you go home crying, maybe play a bit of ukulele like me to make yourself feel better and it’s just no good for anyone.
[17:12] Carla: Yeah, don’t cry. Never cry for personas. I know they look very ugly. They are using the same pictures with all the personas that you do and it’s always that smiley guy.
[17:25] Chris: Just the standard stock images, yeah. The woman laughing, eating salad on her iPad. That’s always a classic. I think that might be you actually.
[17:36] Carla: Oh, really? Do you name your personas, based on your friends? I always do that.
[17:42] Chris: Yeah. All my persons are called Carla. It doesn’t matter if they’re a man or a woman.
[17:50] Carla: Mine are called Chris, Pete, Harriet. I always go back to the same names. It’s really weird, isn’t it?
[17:57] Chris: The classical names.
[17:58] Carla: Yes, very classical.
[17:58] Chris: Strong names. Strong names.
[18:01] Carla: Yeah. So that’s it.
[18:07] Chris: That is it, and so that’s a really great way to end the podcast, I think. Just a long, awkward silence and then…done!.
[18:07] Carla: I really like English awkwardness. I think this is a good introduction for now, what we are trying to achieve with these podcasts. Probably it was just a lot of round with no purpose at all, but the thing that we’re trying to achieve here is to try to untangle as many problems, jargon, different types of things you could call the same thing. So for the next episode, shall I say what are we going to be talking about the next episode, Chris?
[18:58] Chris: If you must
[18:58] Carla: You’re going to love it. So we’re gonna talk about the differences between service design, experience design, user experience, customer experience, and all this experience nightmare that is. Now everyone talks about all these different things and what do they actually mean? Well, we don’t know, right? So I think for next time we just going to try and to entangle that very, very complicated set of terminology, and see we can give our audience a little bit of a light in the world of confusion of experience design. Do you like that? I know you love service design, don’t you?
[19:42] Chris: Yeah. Although behind the scenes, it will be the third time we’ve rerecorded that podcast.
[19:49] Carla: It was so boring as well, so hopefully this isn’t as boring. Hopefully people enjoy it. If you think it was either really good or really shit – and sorry about my French – is it how you say it in English? Sorry for my French or by my French. Please just give us some feedback. So do we have a Twitter handle now, Chris that people can…?
[20:18] Chris: Yes. So you can tweet your abuse @designuntangled on Twitter, one word, and as a new podcast, it’s very helpful for us if you can leave reviews on iTunes as well, either good or bad. Just helps us kind of get out there and know what you guys want to see or hear even
[20:36] Carla: So any feedback, whatever you want to say to us, please do. It’s better some feedback than nothing, so please give us any feedback, any ideas of things that you want us to talk about, even we don’t have the answers, which probably we won’t. We’ll try to find them so we can bring people to talk to you about certain topics. If you are interested in knowing more about things that we don’t know about. So the idea of this podcast is to be helpful, to help you go through the sometimes painful process of growing within the design industry. So whatever we can help with, we’re here to help with. Do you wan t to just talk about your mentorship program on Slack, Chris?
[21:25] Chris: For those that don’t know, if you go to the UXreview.co.uk, we run a kind of UX mentorship thing, which is aimed to help people get their questions answered. We’ve got a couple of different mentors, myself and Carla and a few others as well. You can find that there along the top Nav and there’s about 250 people there currently. We try to sort of help people as a group. So if you’ve got any questions, you can pop those in there, and a mentor will aim to get back to you reasonably quickly.
[21:59] Carla: Great. So thank you very much everyone. Thank you for listening. Hope it wasn’t that boring this time and hope we can actually launch this podcast this time. We tried several times before, but hopefully this one is going to go live. Adios. Bye.