Monthly Archives: November 2012

Project Management Models

WATERFALL, AGILE, LEAN…

My post last week on the role of iteration in the design process has led me to consider the impact (to date) of the project management approach we have adopted on our task.

It can be argued that the provenance of each of the abovementioned project management models dictates its focus.  For example, the “Waterfall” approach was developed in the manufacturing and construction industries, which are characterised by a need for completion in each phase of production and with little scope for iteration.  Similarly, “Agile” project management was adopted by software companies as a means of developing and adapting products in a fast-changing environment.  This approach is frequently criticised for being product-centric (Bryan, 2012). The “Lean” approach has its roots in Japanese manufacturing and aims to improve value to the customer by reducing waste and maximising efficiency (Wikipedia, 2012).  Moreover, there are numerous variations to each model  (for example, Agile/Scrum and Waterfall/V-model), underpinned by a wide range of certified training programmes.

WATERFALL

A waterfall approach to managing a project is useful where there are accountability, safety standards or legal requirements on the organisation.  For example, a public service, medical or financial service-based organisation would benefit from using this model (Seigel, 2011).

AGILE

Bryan (2012) argues that Agile UX is a response to Agile product development where the requirement for “sprints” in the process have reduced the opportunities for UX professionals to influence the design of a product. The author also argues that in order to produce a “quick fix”, Agile methodology relies on assumptions (e.g. via the use of journeys).  This is in contrast to the traditional UX approach, which relies on researched usability data.  However, by working in cross-functional teams, communication and collaboration is enhanced (Bowles and Box, 2012).  In my experience, this team approach can be difficult to implement in larger organisations with hierarchical structures.

LEAN

According to Gothelf (2011) Lean UX is based on an amalgam of the agile model with the Lean Startup approach as described by Ries (2011).  He argues that UX designers should use traditional UX tools but only test in-depth when necessary.  Moreover, he advises that there should be less focus on “deliverables” (documentation).  As with the previous model, this approach requires a cross-functional, collaborative approach which can be culturally challenging to large, established hierarchical organisations.

CLEARLEFT

James Box, one of the founders of Clearleft describes their project mangement approach as one which takes account of the context of the organisation, generating a high number of design ideas and then synthesising them into prototypes which can be iterated.  He is sceptical about user research, arguing that rational choices are not independent of emotion and that aesthetics can make a user perceive the usability of a product as being better than it is.  I am not convinced about this; visual design is only one aspect of usability and the user research we have conducted has shown how a range of users (with varying degrees of interest in visual design) have been unanimous in their response to the usability of a website.

What Kind Of Project Management Approach Is Our Group Using?

The overall structure of the project has been predefined by the academic nature of the task.  Project tasks are recommended for each week but these are not all compulsory; within the framework, we could potentially have followed any of the abovementioned approaches.

It seems to me as if we are using a UX approach that brings elements from all three models.  Thus, we are using a structured approach with clear, documented phases (waterfall); there are short, low-fidelity iterative cycles (lean) and we are working closely as a team in order to achieve timely completion of the project (Agile).  In my opinion, this pragmatic approach ensures that best practice derived from each model is adapted to suit each client and/or project.

Is Our Approach Working?

The success or failure of our approach will become evident in the final feedback we receive on our project.  However, to date, the mix of approaches used have facilitated the following aspects of the project:

  • the generation, development and iteration of ideas
  • group collaboration and flexibility
  • meeting weekly deadlines
  • remaining on track to complete the project by its completion date

My previous experience of academic project work has not been as successful and on reflection, this has been partly due to a lack of clarity about the project management process.  For example, as discussed in my previous post, iteration is a key aspect of design but it is also an important part of the overall management of the project.  I can now see that in previous academic group projects, this feature was not understood by all team members, thus causing frustration and dissent within the group.

Future Projects

In the future, I would look carefully at any project and clarify the approach being used to achieve the task.  This information may be implicit in the organisational culture or explicitly stated within the group.  This clarity would facilitate the roles and tasks within the project.

REFERENCES

Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Bryan, P. 2012. Is UX strategy fundamentally incompatible with Agile and Lean UX? [online]. Available at: http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2012/07/is-ux-strategy-fundamentally-incompatible-with-agile-or-lean-ux.php [Accessed 29 November 2012].

Gothelf, J. 2011. Getting out of the deliverables business [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2011/03/07/lean-ux-getting-out-of-the-deliverables-business/ [Accessed 29 November 2012].

Ries, E. 2011. The Lean startup: how constant innovation creates radically successful businesses. London: Penguin

Seigel, B. 2011. A comprehensive website planning guide [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/06/09/a-comprehensive-website-planning-guide/ [Accessed 29 November 2012].

Wikipedia. 2012. Agile software development [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development [Accessed: 29 November 2012].

Wikipedia. 2012. Lean manufacturing [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_manufacturing [Accessed: 29 November 2012].

Wikipedia. 2012. Waterfall [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterfall_model [Accessed 29 November 2012].

The Dyson DCO1: The Product Of 5,127 Design Iterations

“Iteration” is a word which I had not encountered until embarking on this web design project.  According to Wikipedia (2012) it is:

“…the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration,” and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration.”

With its roots in the mathematical and computing community, the concept has been adopted by UX designers as a feature of the project management process.  Garrett (2003) advises that

“…you should plan your project so that work on any plane cannot finish before work on lower planes has finished.  The important consideration here is not to build the roof of the house before we know the shape of its foundation”  (??)

Evidence of Iteration In Our Group Project

Mapping our group project onto Garrett’s Five Planes model shows that we are entering the  “Structure Plane” phase of the project.  In line with Garrett’s abovementioned advice, we have taken the opportunity to review our output in the previous “Scope” and “Strategy” planes.  For example, we were advised by our lecturer to refine our user journeys and we were consequently able to clarify our ideas about the personas involved, thus finalising the archetypes.  Building personas was a task assigned to Week 3 of the project schedule but in retrospect, it is clear that it would have been almost impossible to achieve the level of detail for each aspect of the scenarios, personas and user journeys without having progressed the project.

This week we have focussed on wireframing, an activity characterised by iteration.  Bowles and Box (2011) argue that wireframes are a key aspect of the outputs or “deliverables” which document design choices.  However, wireframes play a more useful role by representing a design which can be tested with stakeholders.  Kelley (2011) argues that testing early in a project will provide a wealth of information to refine and improve a product before too much time and effort is invested in an idea. Bowles and Box (2011) discuss the “fidelity” (level of detail) in the deliverables and outline a range of tools to create wireframes with varying degrees of fidelity.

WIREFRAMING WITH LOW FIDELITY TOOLS

Do I Have To Draw?

I am not very confident about expressing my ideas thorough drawing; sadly for me, the artistic gene passed from my mum to my younger sister (an embroidery artist).  However, I was confident that this week, somebody in our group would take the lead and demonstrate a talent for drawing the wireframes for our website design.

It soon became evident that my interpretation of designing on paper was not one shared by the lecturer.  Although we undertook some sketching exercises in a recent class, the lecturer emphasised that the aim was to enable everyone in a team to express their ideas, regardless of their drawing skills via sketching games such as “Six To One” and “Design The Box” (Bowles and Box, 2011).  This seemed like a commendable idea but I could not envisage myself needing to undertake this kind of exercise in the workplace. I was proved wrong this week.

How I Was Proved Wrong

Our group planned a site map together, as shown below:

We then began to discuss the key elements of the homepage.  It was clear that we had many ideas but that they were jumbled up and difficult to describe.  It was at this point that the lecturer suggested that we undertake the “Six To One”sketching exercise.  It became clear that drawing ability was irrelevant, as the aim was to generate ideas and refine them collaboratively.  On reflection, this exercise was in essence, a highly focussed iterative process which highlighted two key issues:

  1. as with the persona and scenario-building exercises, this sketching activity could be used as a problem-solving activity in the workplace
  2. this is a very democratic approach to reaching a mutually agreed decision; it allows everyone in the group to have a voice and to be heard

I will consider these issues in more detail as follows:

1. The Contribution of Iterative Design To The Economy

The first issue came to mind when I listened to Monday’s discussion on “Start The Week” (BBC Radio 4, 2012) with Antony Gormley (sculptor) and Ron Arad (designer, architect).  The programme focussed on the current squeeze on Art and Design subjects in the education curriculum in favour of an exam system biased towards Science, Technology Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) subjects.  The aim is to develop the country’s skills base in these areas (House of Lords, 2012) so as to improve the country’s economic productivity. The participants argued that technological and scientific innovation is grounded in good design principles and maintained that the skills gained through an art and/or design-based education can be transferred to economic sectors outside the creative industries.  I am beginning to see that activities such as the personas, user journeys and sketching exercises are a minor example of the creative approach which could be used more widely to generate ideas with economic benefits in other sectors. For example, some commercial organisations, such as Dyson capitalise on the relationship between design and engineering. The company’s founder, James Dyson trained at the Royal College of Art in London.  The design for his bagless vacuum cleaner was inspired by a structure at a sawmill which span out saw dust.  His first machine, the DCO1 took five years and 5,127 prototypes, an iterative process during which he targetted and tried to solve the key issues which affected users of standard vacuum cleaners.

2. The Rejection Of Elitism

The second issue came to mind after attending a talk on campus about the UX industry from two experienced practitioners.  It was evident that the work culture in this sector is based on collaboration and “a rejection of elitism” (Bowles and Box, 2011) via a relatively flat organisational structure which echoes the culture that I experienced when working as a teacher.  This is in sharp contrast to the library environment where a very strong hierarchical structure continues to dominate the decision-making process at all levels of the organisation.  In my opinion, this type of culture stifles creativity and limits opportunities to solve problems with consensual agreement.

Was Sketching Useful?

Overall, I found that the sketching activities were the key to generating and developing ideas as well as acting as a tool for solving problems; they bridged the gap between our researched user journeys and creating a design for the website.

Would I Use Sketching In The Future?

Having understood the aim of the activity and seen the positive results, I would recommend this activity as a tool for generating ideas.  In the future I would approach it with more confidence and I would feel less self-conscious about using a variety of resources, including different types of marker pens, felt tips and large sheets of paper to help express my ideas.

Given that I would wish to use wireframes to test ideas as part of an iterative design process, I would think carefully about presenting sketches for testing ideas; some stakeholders may find this form of presentation confusing and this could detract from the research being undertaken. However, I would certainly use the abovementioned techniques to sketch wireframes with a group of people so as to mock-up a consensual design using medium/high fidelity tools.

WIREFRAMING WITH MEDIUM/HIGH FIDELITY TOOLS

Having produced some hand-drawn wireframes, our group was encouraged to try out different tools to produce documentation which would be consistent in appearance and easier for stakeholders to understand.  I consequently tried out demo versions of “Axure”, “Mockingbird” and “Balsamiq”.  (The free versions all had restrictions on their functionality.)

Choosing Software For Wireframing

Overall, I enjoyed using Balsamiq the most, as it was flexible, easy to use and it allowed notes to be added.  Axure had the potential to be a powerful tool but there is simply not enough time for us to learn to use if effectively, even though it has a built-in HTML function.

As a group, we decided that Mockingbird was the easiest tool to use but its main drawbacks were that we could not edit collaboratively in the trial version and and that secondly, it did not have an HTML function for us to test a prototype.  After an impromptu tutorial of Visio from our lecturer, the group agreed to use Visio to design the remaining wireframes and prototypes.  Its familiarity (it is part of the Office Suite), accessibility to the full version, HTML functionality and ability to work collaboratively on designs were the key reasons behind our decision behind using this software (although I think that PowerPoint would produce very similar results for our project).

On reflection, if I was adept at using all of the abovementioned packages, I would probably choose a tool to suit the client and the style of website they require.  Thus, I might consider presenting wireframes made in “Balsamiq” to clients in a creative business and use “Axure” for an engineering-based client.

An Iterative Approach To Group Work

Wireframing has been a focussed and well-recorded exercise in iterative design for our group.  However, on reflection, I can see that we have used iteration throughout the project.  As shown above, this has applied to our work output but it has also been implicit to our approach.  We have accepted as a group that our individual contributions whether oral or recorded should be refined by the rest of the group as our collective understanding is greater than the individual’s. This is not always the case and I will explore the reasons why this approach to the project appears to be working well for our group in a later post.

REFERENCES

Axure Software Solutions. 2012. Axure RP [online]. San Diego: Axure. Available at: http://www.axure.com/products [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Balsamiq. 2012. Balsamiq mockups [online]. Sacramento: Balsamiq. Available at: http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups [Accessed 22 November 2012].

BBC. 2012. Start the week: art and design with Antony Gormley and Ron Arad [online]. London: BBC. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01nx5jv [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Garrett, J. J. 2003. The elements of user experience : user-centered design for the web. 2nd ed.Berkeley, CA: New Riders

Kelley, D. 2001. Design as an iterative process [online]. Stanford: Stanford eCorner. Available at: http://www.academicearth.org/lectures/design-as-an-iterative-process [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Microsoft Corporation. 2010. Visio 2010 [online]. Washington: Microsoft Corporation. Available at: http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/visio/ [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Some Character. 2012. Wireframes on the fly: mockingbird [online]. San Francisco: Some Character. [Accessed 22 November 2012].

Wikipedia. 2012. Iteration [online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iteration [Accessed 22 November 2012].

“If an item does not appear in our records then it does not exist!”

The abovementioned words are spoken by Jocasta Nu, Chief Librarian of the Jedi Archives when Obi-Wan Kenobi is searching for the location of the Kamino planetary system…

However, this is a very 20th century view of a library or archive; ongoing development of the Semantic Web is pointing to a future where certain information may only exist as as an entity when created by a user.

The Semantic Web: a web of data

I first came across the term “Semantic Web” when I was researching the changes to cataloguing standards 12 months ago for a previous module.  It is something that that has been of interest to me since then.  Working in a library and studying on this course has highlighted how the library community appears to be struggling to adapt to changes in the information environment.  The Resource Description and Access (RDA) cataloguing standard has been developed to encompass digital resources but will not be fully embraced by the British Library until 2013 (CILIP, 2012).  In my opinion, RDA can only be a stepping stone to the adoption of a new standard which will embrace Linked Open data in the Semantic Web, as discussed by Dunsire (2011).  Given that the related issue of ontologies is now being openly discussed on programmes such as “Woman’s Hour” (BBC, 2012) I can only hope that the slow adoption of newer standards does not lead to libraries erasing themselves from the information map!

Some of the principles which underlie this third iteration of the Web are visible in my everyday interaction with websites.  For example, the John Lewis website offers suggestions aimed specifically at me based on the “saucepans” and “table linen” which I have previously viewed:

These suggestions consist of linked metadata from within the John Lewis website and similar examples can be seen on other websites.  However, it was not until this week’s lecture where we discussed how tailored content can be fed into a fully live web page that I was suddenly struck by the fact that static web pages will no longer need to exist in the future.  By linking all forms of an item across all resouces, what will be the implications of this to website design?

This is a complex and evolving field in which I have no technical expertise.  However, I can see that some issues will affect design.  For example, given that searching will become more refined and personalised, the field of information retrieval will probably focus more on “filtering out” irrelevant information.  Designers will therefore need to find more creative ways of ensuring that their site content is accessed by the target market.  The second implication that comes to mind is that users will be able to access content more flexibly.  The traditional hierarchical structure of websites is already being reconsidered by designers so that all pages on a sitemap could have equal importance; reducing the amount of navigation on a site is discussed by Bradley (2012) who examines the development of single page websites.  It is clear that these sites reflect a desire to draw information together into one location, enhancing usability of the website and making it more dynamic.  (Site does not function as well on iPad.) However, I think that this style of website is in preparation for a time when the retrieval of individual web pages will become inefficient and uncompetitive.  Thus, a single page website would help to ensure that the entirety of the organisation’s information would remain unfiltered in a Semantic Web search.

The Synaptic Web: A web of “live” connections

The lecturer discussed a second model for the Web – the Synaptic Web.  My limited reading on this subject seems to suggest that this approach focusses on a folksonomical approach to the future development of the Web.  Thus, proponents for this model discuss the Synaptic Web as being descriptive rather than prescriptive.   However, having examined the transfer of information between different fields, for example, between film archives and academic libraries, it is evident that common standards or a high level of interoperability is necessary to achieve the initial fast, accurate connections prior to developing “plasticity” that is, the connections between the connections, as described by Loux and Blantz ( 2011). Thus, whereas HTML was the common standard for the first incarnation of the Web, Resource Description Framework (RDF) could provide the platform for a more descriptive Web.  My current thinking is that there will probably be a convergence between the two models to create the the Web of the future.

REFERENCES

BBC. 2012. Woman’s Hour: Power list expert witness: science and engineering [online].London: BBC. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p010v47s [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Bradley, S. 2012. Exploration of single page websites [online]. Freiburg: Smashing Magazine. Available at: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/11/05/navigation-patterns-in-single-page-websites/#more-142481 [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

CILIP 2012. Implementing RDA in the UK: strategies and lessons learned [online]. CILIP: London. Available at: http://www.cilip.org.uk/rda2012/Documents/3.%20Alan%20Danskin.pdf [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Dunsire, G. 2011. Web resource management and semantic web [Online]. Ahmedabad: INFLIBNET. Available at:htt p://ir.inflibnet.ac.in/dxml/bitstream/handle/1944/1605/15.pdf?sequence=1 [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Loux, K. et al. 2011. The synaptic web [online]. San Mateo: PBWorks. Available at: http://synapticweb.pbworks.com/w/page/8983891/FrontPage [Accessed: 14 November 2012].

Halloween Interview and Task Observation

Halloween night was the date when I conducted an interview and task observation with a good friend who regularly attends folk events and festivals. (Please note that the interviewee is wearing the microphone.)

Preparation

I prepared a question sheet for the interview and practised on my teenage son, so as to check the flow of questions, as suggested by Kuniavsky (2003).  I downloaded a free version of Microsoft Expression Encoder 4 in order to record the observation tasks and I practised using this software (again, on my surprisingly obliging son).  I was impressed by the quality of the screen capture and used the headphones and mike pictured above to record the participant’s audio very clearly.  However, I decided not to include the webcam feature as this lagged behind the audio and screen capture.

The data capture sheet had separate boxes for each screen as a reminder of the 4 key questions for each screen.  I felt that this was important to ensure consistency in our approach across  all tasks and all participants.  During my test task observation I became quickly aware that it is almost impossible to take notes whilst talking to a participant and I agree with Kuniavsky (2003) who suggests that this exercise should be conducted by 2 people.

Conducting the interviews and task observations

We encountered a range of issues which I have categorised as follows:

1. Technical Issues

I had to find, download and practise using the software; this initially seemed straight forward but it became difficult to troubleshoot when we encountered problems with Internet connections; firstly with teenage children playing online game during the task observation with Participant 1 and secondly on campus where the Eduroam wireless system failed, forcing us to rely on audio recording for  Participant 3 and 4.  Although I had tested the wireless system on campus at 9.30am, I hadn’t made allowances for the notoriously high demand on the wireless network in the Library between 11am and 2pm.  In the future, I would minimise the chance of this happening by connecting via an ethernet.  Indeed, as I write, I am also wondering why I didn’t video the task observations using my phone…

2. Lack of interviewing experience

Having conducted the interview/task observation with a familiar primary user, I had become aware that the series of questions which we had agreed as a group were very specific to the website and that they were not going to provide as much background information as we might need to understand the lifestyle, interests and motivations behind the behaviours of the interviewees, particularly the primary users – about whom the group had little information.  We needed to ask additional questions but this proved to be difficult as two of the interviewees were line managers for two members of the group!  Although this wasn’t ideal, there were advantages to using senior staff.  Firstly, we were allowed to conduct the interviews during work hours and secondly, we were able to access a suitable venue (a group study room in the Library).  Consequently, given the budget and time restrictions of the project, I feel that we gathered enough information to fulfill our user research objectives.  In a future project, I would include additional questions to enhance our understanding of the primary users.

The second issue that arose due to my lack of interviewing experience was deciding when to interrupt and re-focus the interviewee’s attention to the question/task as opposed to just keeping quiet and listening! This is obviously a skill which needs to be developed over time; recording and listening back to interviews has certainly helped me to analyse my performance.  For example, when observing task 3, I insisted that Participant 1 should try and find the Facebook page from the website, even though she had proposed an alternative route which would have worked in real life.  This is discussed by Krug (2006) who outlines a range of motives for users not choosing a designed route, including the idea that users will revert to previously successful strategies for solving problems, even if they are unorthodox.  The result of my intervention was to force the participant to undertake additional searching which was invalid as it was not what the participant would have done under normal circumstances.

3. Interviewee Issues

There was evidence that interviewees were slightly nervous about the interview/task observations.  Participant 2 arrived late and flustered and seemed less focussed in his approach to the tasks.  I had booked the room for 5 hours to suit participants’ needs.  Unfortunately, the interviews were arranged by another group member with only 15 minute breaks between each participant’s 30 minute slot.  In the future, I would leave longer periods between interviews to accommodate over-runs and to allow time for re-setting equipment.

Participant 3 wanted to give the “right” answers, as shown by the transcript of one of the tasks:   Participant 3 Observation task 1buying a ticket.  We tried to minimise this anxiety by preparing an introduction speech, as discussed by Kuniavsky (2003) which was read to all participants to explain the purpose of the task.  Unfortunately, this participant is an experienced manager who would probably not wish to appear unable to complete a task in front of her junior staff (even if difficulties were due to the website design).  In future, I would therefore avoid any potential conflict of interest by not interviewing my own line manager, unless the person was a key stakeholder to the project.

4. Analysis Issues

The original plan had been for the interviewers to share the transcription process with the other members of the group. Unfortunately, as 2 of the interviews were affected by the technical problems, we thought that it would be very difficult for the rest of the group to transcribe the audio-only recordings of the practical tasks.  Consequently, we have yet to analyse the data.  I am conscious of the fact that transcripts are raw data and that the interviews and task observation results need to be summarised and analysed to obtain the information required to build archetypal personas.  We will try and complete this before next week’s lecture.

What did I learn?

  • Interviewing is difficult; asking searching, open-ended questions without leading a participant or imposing one’s views is a skilled job
  • Researchers need to work in pairs and allow extra time for delays and discussion
  • Researchers should have back-up recording equipment in case there are technical problems
  • Audiovisual recording of the research provides an accurate record intervieweee responses

Was this research useful?

Overall, despite some of the issues outlined above, I can see that this user research has provided us with real information required to map realistic scenarios and journeys for the primary users which had not been available to us from the SurveyMonkey survey. In the future, I would undertake similar research, not only to support the development of personas and user journeys but also to provide an evidence base. Bowles and Box (2011) discuss how this would be particularly important where stakeholders may have conflicting priorities, as it would help focus everyone’s attention on the key requirements.  As with the persona development, I can see how this is going to provide the basis for the design aspect of the website.

REFERENCES

Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Evans, W. 2012. Customer research & persona development [online]. San Francisco: slideshare. Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/willevans/customer-research-persona-development [Accessed 01 November 2012].

Krug, S. 2006. Don’t make me think! : a common sense approach to web usability. 2nd ed.Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Kuniavsky, M. 2003. Observing the user experience: a practitioner’s guide to user research. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann

Scenarios and Personas: A New Take on Commedia Dell’ Arte

It struck me this week, that there is a striking similarity between the principles of scenario and persona development in UX design and the Italian Commedia Dell’ Arte.  In the C15th, troupes of actors would put on open air performances using stock characters.  Scenarios would be tailored to the audience and dialogue was improvised, thus allowing the actors to comment on social and political issues of interest to the particular audience.  Similarly, scenarios, personas and user journey planning are techniques used by UX designers (the actors) to generate ideas for discussion by stakeholders (the audience) of a given website.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I am interested in understanding the process of turning analysed data into a design idea using the abovementioned techniques.  I was heartened by the thought that these techniques have been used successfully in theatre for a long time!

Our Group’s Approach To Developing Personas

Given that we had not conducted the research on the primary users yet, we decided to focus on the information gathered from the SurveyMonkey survey which had been sent out mainly to secondary users to develop personas.  The group put forward ideas and then tested them against the quantitative and qualitative data obtained from the survey.  For example, when developing the persona of a secondary user, it was evident from the research that viewing photos on the festival website would be a key activity for this secondary users.  We consequently sketched a secondary persona with a smartphone.  In the midst of generating personas, I remained mindful of the fact that the lecturer (an experienced IA and UX designer) had explained that it is a technique which she does not use as often as user journey mapping.

How Useful Are Personas?

Bowles and Box (2011) discuss how personas are used most successfully in cases where many users are interviewed to identify common themes.  They put forward ideas for making use of existing marketing data to create personas in cases where time and/or money limits research.  Our project has these constraints upon it.  The limited data we have available could, as argued by Evans (2012) result in the creation of a persona based on the group’s own rationalisations and beliefs.   This was demonstrated by the group’s initial idea to use familiar secondary users to develop primary personas due to time/resource limitations.  A reconsideration of this idea has led to research with two primary users whose behaviours, needs and goals are dissimilar to the group’s initial expectations of personas for people who attend folk festivals.

Wechsler puts the issue of personas into context by describing personas as the characters which populate a scenario.  In turn, this can be used to plot a user journey through a website.

Our First User Journey

We developed a persona for a secondary user and created a journey using different colour post-its on a whiteboard.  We took photos to record our work but then reproduced the work on slides to make the journeys easier to read.  We initially plotted the journey using the existing site.  The number of steps reflect the potential user’s difficulty in accessing relevant information:

I was impressed by the flow of this process; the incorporation of the persona into a scenario and the subsequent journey helped to stimulate questions, comments and ideas about the existing site.  Our lecturer then suggested that we plot an “ideal” journeys for the same persona.  The slide below reflects a more intuitive route through the website:

I can therefore see that focussing on personas alone could result in an inaccurate interpretation of user research.  However, I think that any inherent bias or sterotyping becomes less problematic when personas  (both primary and secondary) are seen as part of a wider UX planning process whereby the personas are put within the context of user journey maps, thus generating design ideas which span a range of user behaviours, needs and expectations.

I am looking forward to analysing the the results of the user interviews and task observations; developing primary personas will be the next step in our design process.  I hope that they can be as colourful as the personas in the Commedia Dell’Arte…

REFERENCES

Bowles, C. and Box, J. 2011. Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Evans, W. 2012. Customer research & persona development [online]. San Francisco: slideshare. Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/willevans/customer-research-persona-development [Accessed 01 November 2012].

Wechsler, J. 2010. Using scenarios [online]. Available at: http://uxthink.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/using_scenarios/ [Accessed 01 November 2012].