The Unicorn Institute – A future of UX reimagined

I just backed the Unicorn Institute on Kickstarter.

This is an important project brought by a UX hero of mine, Jared Spool, along with the help of Leslie Jensen Inman.

I’m proud to call these folks peers – mentors actually. It is an awesome thing that they are attempting to build. I would love to go to this UX school one day, but even if my kids were able and wanted to, that would be a dream come true.

Take a moment to check out the project and consider giving at least a little in support of such an awesome initiative.



Where to start in UX?

So, I am obviously a huge advocate of user experience. Like anything, if you don’t already know the scope of something you’re new to, it can feel a little overwhelming. Rest assured, there are many routes you can take in learning UX – there’s not necessarily one right way.

The beacon of hope

This is honestly just a quick post to capture a few resources that I recently shared with one of my great designer colleagues. He feels a natural inclination toward user experience thinking, which is awesome.

Like him, I was once in need that simple push, a reassurance, toward what these natural abilities are – that others could see and understand what I was talking about even when I didn’t know the right nomenclature to use. Sometimes, that’s all we need in order for that giant learning bubble to shrink down to something consumable and less overwhelming.

So, I shared with him some things I found with a quick Google search. There are tons of awesome resources out there. Google image search has worked wonders for finding UX deliverables. Sometimes it helps to see the format others have used to capture their thoughts. Don’t get too hung up on how the deliverables look though aesthetically. In the end, it’s about what’s being communicated and less about perfectly designed documentation.

In my own experience, UX has been about bridging a gap between designers, developers, end users, and business stakeholders. That looks different from organization to organization. The value you can bring to the table as a UX practicioner is the user-centered experience resulting from thoughtful design that balances the needs of all the players. When that translates to greater ROI, you’ve hit the sweet spot.

Learning about UX

HCI – I really really want a certification some day.

Human Computer Interaction course on Coursera (free learning, check it out). I started it, but didn’t treat it like a real course on top of my day job, so never finished. I have all the videos downloaded though. What I saw was really good, and definitely affirmed my natural abilities in UX.

Nielsen-Norman Group’s HCI day workshop. This looks promising; another on my UX bucket list.

Design Pattern libraries

If you don’t already, start thinking in terms of views and design patterns. Design patterns are visual design, but it’s really about satisfying a need. Design pattern libraries or collections typically group these by task or feature. This starts helping you see parts of design as tasks, features, utilities, and controls. Ultimately, this can help your designs become more purposeful. Many of these actually have case studies along with conversion results, which is awesome.

UI Patterns

A Flickr user’s design pattern collection

That’s all I have for now. If you’re new to UX, I hope I’ve settled your possible anxiety about the right and wrong way to learn UX (I get asked all the time). Relax. Enjoy the discovery!

If you have natural tendencies toward user flows, design patterns, views, and knowing how to balance the needs of key players, we could always use more talent in the UX industry. I recommend doing an Indeed job search on UX or User Experience and just see what skills companies are willing to pay for. You might be surprised at how much you already can apply. Use your awareness of skill gaps as a career compass. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way – I’ve seen it happen 🙂

Is user experience (UX) customer service, or a form of customer service?

I recently suggested to an anthropology and sociology student that they consider UX as a potential career industry. Here’s how it has played out.

Back in January, I noticed this student on my LinkedIn “who you might know” feed and wanted to connect with the intention of inquiry where he plans to go in his career, simply out of curiosity. I honestly thought that anthropology and sociology were very strong backgrounds from which to build a career in user experience. So, I did connect.

I sent a message to my new LinkedIn friend to inquire about his plans. I was very clear that I was curious how he planned to use his degree. Surprisingly, he replied. His response was impressive — it was clear he had really thought about what he wanted to do. For him, his years in customer service made sociology a natural fit, stating that he excelled at identifying needs and helping people discover things they may need in the future. His plans, overall, were to become a customer service consultant or a recruiter.

I was really impressed. His response was solid, with just the right amount of aspiration, ambition, and room for evolution. Someone like that could benefit the UX industry in so many ways, because they have users [customers] at heart and allow that to drive their direction. He was goal oriented, focused, and approaching his career with directed agility. I wanted to reveal an industry he hadn’t considered, because it could potentially change his entire career path.

In response, I wrote the following:

“I work in an industry called User Experience. I personally don’t have psychology or sociology training, but I find those fascinating, for similar reasons to what you’ve listed.

I think you should consider branding your skills, knowledge, and passion to include user experience. I’m personally finding that the UX industry is huge in certain parts of the country, and it’s only growing.

I’m also seeing a merge from the digital design and development realm into more of the business intelligence, customer service focused realm. You don’t have to be a designer or developer to be in UX, you just have to love making things right for customers.

In the case of website design and development, UX practitioners are responsible for making sure the customer is central to the design process; the user always comes first. And, when things have already been built or implemented (websites, IVR call systems, etc), UX gets to troubleshoot and optimize those channels to increase customer satisfaction, which is obviously tied to business goals and revenue.”

I hadn’t heard from my new friend till I received another LinkedIn message yesterday. It was refreshing to know that this guy had not dismissed the idea of UX, and actually continued to pursue more understanding of UX as it relates to where he had planned to go.

His response was prefaced with the desire to understand better how UX and sociology can work together. His research has lead him to understand the technical side of things, progressing from front-end and back-end to the final result. He is right, in that much of the user experience optimizing may involve the technical and creative side of things. However, there are people who identify and plan ways to optimize that increase business ROI before the site or project is handed to designers and developers.

In closing, he asked:

“So would you say UX is a form of customer service or is it customer service?”

Man. What a great question. This has been one of my favorite conversations regarding UX yet. I thought about it over the last day or so and finally replied. Here’s what I said:

“Great question! I’d say UX is a form of customer service. In UX, the users of something are key to goals of the project, product, service, or task. That means that you could cover the gamut of customer experience, from before they encounter the product or service (when it is being designed for them) all the way to after they’ve tried it and formed an opinion based on their experience. You could fit in anywhere in that process if you have users (customers) at heart.

I believe UX can be addressed everywhere you look. And I also believe that UX is in direct support of customer satisfaction.

If a customer walks up to the Kmart service desk, some aspect of their shopping, buying, and searching tasks will be revealed in their request for assistance. Where UX is probably different [from in store customer service] is in the scope of things that can be addressed, which includes a more creative process than [traditional] customer service typically covers. Trying to fix the interactions online, for instance, is more than likely out of a customer service associate’s hands. Or even the ease of reaching items on the shelf (though that probably encroaches into the merchandising field).

I’m really glad you’ve been curious enough to look into UX in relation to customer service. The more you understand about UX, the better you can think through creative solutions to customer service problems…. and the more of an asset you could become to a company.”

I wanted to share this experience with my readers because it has inspired me. I appreciate genuine interest and curiosity in user experience and love to understand how UX intertwines into things we are already familiar with. I also hope to possibly make a small impact in what should be an amazing career for this future graduate. Sharing information, and the passion that allows the discovery of information, is core to my purpose.

Facebook Home for an evening

Facebook Home

From the Facebook Home landing page, you can see my phone - the large one, in the back! (Source:

I was approached on Friday to download, install, use, and test Facebook Home as “the first to have it at AREA203 Digital” (see the original tweet). So, I did. I installed it.

Caveat: Honestly, I have Facebook but don’t interact with it as though it’s the latest and greatest platform out there. I just typically do my thing with whatever platform is suitable in the moment. I miss a lot of the experience upgrades that Facebook intends users to swoon over. But, I’m okay being out of that loop, honestly.

While I appreciate making twitter news by being the first to have a newly released, hot-off-the-press app, at the agency I work at, I really was not all that thrilled with the experience of Facebook Home. I didn’t realize it would quite literally take over my screen, the experience I’ve come to know and love as my personal Android device interface.

I lasted the evening through, but on my way home from my evening out, I uninstalled it.

Top reasons to uninstall Facebook Home:

  1. I like my Android interface better.
  2. I don’t like activating my screen to find a stranger’s facebook post and picture in full screen on my phablet.
  3. I like having control over my device, and Facebook Home took that away from me.
  4. Facebook Home caters to those who covet Facebook; it’s not nearly as important to me.
  5. I agree with Stephen Wan, who I’ve never met or known till I ran across his thoughts on Facebook Home.

I’m sure there are people who have reasons to want to use Facebook Home. But, I’m willing to be they are distracted easily by shiny objects and a screen full of strangers and status that they didn’t realize they cared so much about till now, as they are forced to see them while using their phone.

I appreciate the try, Facebook. I’m sure there will be some adopters. But, overall, I’m happy to fall off that bandwagon and get a toe smashed by the wagon wheel. I’ll live 🙂


How to find salary information for user experience positions

There are some really great salary calculator tools across the web. Whether you are happily employed in a job or just beginning your job search, rest assured there are plenty of tools to cover the gamut of the task at hand.

On occasion, I will casually search for salary information in my industry, namely, user experience. After a recent search, I happened upon the Indeed salary tool. Now, I had previously visited this site in searches before. But, Indeed seems to have made some minor enhancements to their salary search tool that include a salary comparison function. I thought that to be quite helpful.

In my case, I was curious to see how my job title compared to related titles that I see across LinkedIn posts and other reference sites. So, I added the titles and this is what I got:

Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s not too shabby. This is me comparing closely related positions for the same location. If you could move anywhere, well, I could see you using this search tool to compare one job title in different locations. I imagine that’s what most people use it for.

Here, I have demonstrated for you what results one might see in comparing one title against different locations:

As you can see, it’s kind of fun to do this kind of searching. Maybe you have aspirations to have an amazing kind of title, in an amazing place, that pays relatively well. Hopefully, this tool will help you decide where that amazing place will be.

Good luck in your searching!

Mental Entropy in the online conversion funnel

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmih

I just read Sell More on Your Website by Understanding a Bit About Entropy

I first discovered the word entropy in the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Mental (or psychic) entropy is this crazy thing we all deal with when we’re not enjoying an optimal experience. Now, apply that to the online experience, as a customer trying to complete a task on a website such as order your favorite book, subscribe to your coffee-of-the-month club, or apply for a financial service online.

In that article above, the author uses entropy as a model of thinking about web design. He mentions Steve Jobs, and his ability to fight entropy, which is how he made such a huge footprint in the world’s ability to access information. I knew there was something about Steve Jobs. It was that he could recognize entropy and design with it in mind, resulting in an efficient and enjoyable product.

“Fighting entropy on a website means giving form to and then reducing the resistance of the critical path.”

This may seem like an obvious model to design by, but I think we lose sight of this and possibly forget how to be passionate about designing to reduce friction for the end user.

I enjoyed the article – figured you might also find it interesting.

I also highly recommend you read the book Flow to understand in simple terms why you should care about this idea of “flow”.

LinkedIn finds commonalities between me and my peers

In common with Jeremy Hixon

I like LinkedIn. Of all the social and portfolio aimed networks I have tried, I believe LinkedIn to be one of the leading in allowing me to expose myself, professionally speaking of course.

While I don’t watch LinkedIn updates as closely as a user experience professional might be curious enough to do, I do notice the improvements while using the service. I like where they’ve gone with look and feel as well as some of the sidebar features like metrics and how you’re connected.

LinkedIn has always had a hierarchical labeling for connection depth, but they’ve taken it visual, and I believe it to be a great addition. Now, in additional to the “1st”, “2nd”, and so on, degrees of connection, I can see in a simple graphic who fills the  gap between a potential connection and myself.

Another great feature is the commonalities graph. This allows me to see what I have in common with a potential connection. Take my peer Jeremy Hixon for example. He and I have worked together for going on several years. I honestly already know what we have in common. But, say we weren’t yet connected and I was visiting his profile to determine if we should connect, if we know each other, etc. I’d see this graphic that shows a strong commonality in the area of Skills & Expertise. Similarly, LinkedIn shows that we share a few groups, and we share a company and location as well. The size of the bubble is in direct relation to how much commonality there is.

It’s a very simple thing, this graphical representation of commonality. But, like with several of the other LinkedIn UI updates, this graphic makes reading through profiles even more interesting. While it’s not fun to the extent of a bouncy house at a carnival, it is a fun and attractive element that gives good information to a LinkedIn user.

I’m sure there are skeptics, but I appreciate the effort LinkedIn has given in improving my experience as a regular (an paying) member of their network.