For Intranet projects search for ways to include unexpected delights for users

Jennifer Aldrich is a UX & Content Strategist at InVision, the popular prototyping, collaboration, and workflow platform. Aldrich’s interests are varied and include content strategy, design thinking, user centered design, writing, defining product voice and tone, usability testing and user research. She firmly believes that sharing knowledge is one of the most powerful ways that members of the UX community can make an impact on the world around them.
Aldrich spoke to Spadeworx about her UX prep, user research, convincing stakeholders to invest in the UX process, design thinking and how the path to being a UX professional can often be circuitous.
How do you approach a project? What is your preparation process you follow before starting any project?
I honestly consider prep work part of my process. Including prep in your design time estimates and allotments will save you frustration and headaches down the line. Research is a huge first step. Chat with your target audience and deep dive to find out not just what they want, but what the underlying problems are that they’re trying to solve. If you’re creating a brand new product, don’t get hung up on what competitors offer, focus on what clients actually need. Often times competitors, especially those that have been around for a long time, get bogged down by legacy features that aren’t even useful anymore. You don’t want to do a competitive analysis and wind up working on features that are already useless. Focusing on specific problems that aren’t being addressed well currently can make your product lighter weight, easier to use and position you as a real contender in your space.
It’s often hard to convince stakeholders to invest in the UX process. How do you make them see the value of good UX?
The key to getting a company to invest in the UX process if you’re working in-house or at an agency, is finding a high ranking internal sponsor. Bobby Meeks just did a great webinar with Designer Hangout that focused a lot on the topic. Don’t try to change the entire organization yourself, find a person at the top who will help advocate and evangelize the concept company wide. Once you have that buy in, other stakeholders tend to jump on board. When working with individual clients, sell the financial value. Explain that spending some time doing some user research and usability testing can save them huge amounts of money that would otherwise go to redesign. Saving cash is a big motivator for stakeholders and clients.
What’s your take on Design Thinking as a concept? Could you tell us your views on if and how it can be applied to various problems?
Design Thinking is very powerful, but sometimes it is over promoted but people who don’t know enough about it. This usually happens when people recently learned Design Thinking and just became a “believer”. It is always dangerous to just accept theories and not question them and really understand their strengths and weaknesses.
Design thinking is a great methodology for solving complex tasks that can’t be solved by logic. For example, Design thinking is not suitable if you are trying to find out how much drinking water will be needed in Sydney in 2020. In this case it is better to look at statistics and use logic to calculate a prediction. If the problem on the other hand is changed to “we know there will be a water shortage in 2020, how can we best solve this?” Design Thinking would be the right approach.The key thing in my mind for Design Thinking is that you need to start with a need. Understand what the pain is for users and then start from a blank page of how to solve it. It sounds so simple, but unfortunately most companies do this wrong. They identify the need as “users can’t do X in our software”. That is not the need. The need is “users want to do X”, but the company has already set limitations of the solution. Sure, we can innovate within that scope, but the best solution might not have anything to do with that software. Why this happens is because companies are set up according to products and software they sell and support. Not the user needs the company solve.
How would you balance the requirements between the user goals and business goals?
Let’s take an example of retirement savings. If you are saving for your retirement in one company, let’s say TIAA-CREF. TIAA will offer you funds they manage since they make money on those funds. Let’s say you are interested in a fund from investment company, let’s sat Vanguard. What should TIAA-CREF do? If they offer you the Vanguard fund, they’ll make less money since they don’t get their fund fees, but if they don’t let you buy it you might take all of your money and move to Vanguard.
The problem here is the incorrect problem statement. The company is considering between offering the competitors fund or not. I.e. weighing the user goal and the business goal. However, they have not considered why you wanted the Vanguard fund in the first place. If TIAA-CREF would create a better fund than Vanguard, all of a sudden both user goals and business goals align.
Companies stuck in this trade off thinking often view it as a zero sum game (if you win, they lose). What companies fail to see is if TIAA created a more appealing fund by lowering their fees they make less money off you, they might gain more customers.
Intranet sites often don’t get enough love when it comes to user experience. How can we make intranet sites more interesting and not just something that employees use just because they no option?
Getting a high ranking team member to sponsor it as a way to improve work culture can really help. As far as how to make them more interesting, treat them the way you would your product. Do some user research to figure out where pain points are, improve the UX, search for ways to include unexpected delight, focus on adding some content that would be interesting to internal staff members (perhaps a series of interviews about team members) etc.
In terms of the UX process, how can applying the Pareto principle be useful?
Absolutely. Applying the Pareto Principle to your user research strategy can be especially beneficial. I’ve outlined a method that I used at my last startup here:
What are your ways of finding pain points in any product?
To find pain points there are really 3 main discovery tools. The first is conducting user research. Get out and talk to your clients, walk them through various scenarios, ask them direct what is causing them the most pain. Next is reviewing support cases. Chatting with your support team, and analyzing case data can help you quickly identify areas of the product that need to be improved most. Thirdly, trying to use the product yourself on a daily basis can be extremely helpful in IDing major product issues. Even if the tool isn’t something that would be traditionally related to your role, learning to use it, and attempting to use it at least once a day to finish a primary task can be very eye opening. It’s one thing to hear about other people experiencing an issue, it’s another thing entirely to actually experience it yourself. It’s a very powerful motivator.
Design Thinking is getting a lot of attention in recent times. Could you tell us your views on how it can be applied to various problems?
Design thinking is creating a cultural shift across organizations. In the past, design teams were siloed off within organizations. Companies are now realizing that the skills that designers use to think through and solve problems can be applied cross functionally, and as a result design has made its way to C level roles in businesses all over the world. Designers are being called on to apply their skillets to all kinds of business problems.
Any tips for UX designers on how they can start thinking about sustainability more and bringing that more into their work?
Sustainability is so, so important. I’ll never forget the first time I watched Objectified. The scene that showed mountains of old tech in a landfill was burned into my mind and has stuck with me ever since. There are several areas that we tend to overlook, not intentionally, they just aren’t front of mind, in design. Focusing on sustainability is one, as is accessibility. As far as bringing it into our work, it really just requires a shift in thinking. If someone needs some convincing about designing with sustainability in mind, I’d definitely recommend having them watch the landfill scene from objectified. It’s pretty haunting.
Could you tell us about how you made your way into User Experience? You have a science and psychology degree. How did that guide your work?
I took a circuitous route into the UX industry. I built my first website in the 90s and had a blast doing it. At that point it didn’t occur to me that design was something I could turn into a career, so I wound up heading to college and getting a degree in education and another in psychology. While I was finishing up my second degree, I took on a part-time job as a computer lab tech. I got to witness first hand the impact that well executed software has on the workflows and levels of productivity of members of various industries. I also got to witness the impact of poorly designed software—the loss of time and energy and high levels of frustration that it could inflict. After graduation, I wound up taking a job at a startup as a software trainer, but was eventually loaned out to the design and development department during a product overhaul project (rebuilding our entire platform on .NET). That was when I truly fell in love with product design. I was offered a job on the UX team soon after the project was completed, and had amazing mentors that helped me grow and launch my career. Pulling from a background in psychology has definitely impacted the way I perform user research and usability testing. I find the entire process and the results fascinating.
We are huge InVision fans and very curious about how things work there. Could you tell us about the design process at InVision and the culture in general?
The culture here at InVision is phenomenal. We have clearer lines of communication than I’ve ever experienced in a traditional office setting and a very positive overall culture. There is much respect across teams, the leadership team is phenomenal and teams work together beautifully cross departmentally. We even have a peer recognition program that gets used very heavily each month. The employees at InVision are just fantastic.

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