Selected to speak at Agile UX 2015

Stoked to have been selected to speak…

One of the criticisms we’ve all heard about the Agile methodology is that it encourages mediocrity. It clouds our long-term vision with small-scale “quick wins” and forces us to focus on gradual improvements on an unambitious existing product.

At Agile UX 2015, held in Sydney, my talk will aim to dispel this myth by distinguishing the difference between vision and process. The truth is that Agile does not stifle creativity, it does not prevent us from looking further into the future. I’ll give real-world examples of ways teams can continue to foster their long-term ambitions whilst maintaining a process which focusses on the here-and-now.

Check out the full program:

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Hiring Design Leadership (response)

I just read an article on Peter Merholz’s blog on The Challenges of Hiring Senior Design Leadership.

It goes into the struggles involved in finding someone that can effectively lead the design vision of your company. I agree with Peter, that there are many skills an executive-level leader needs, and ideally they will be strong in all of them, but that’s a very rare breed of combined talents most organisations are unfortunately unlikely to find.

In a perfect world there would be a perfect organisational structure (and perfect leader) for each size and type of company. Unfortunately the world never seems to work out that way, just as nothing ever goes exactly to plan. Teams and organisations are more organic.

In my mind, this means hiring good people, the best you can find, and recognise their strengths and weaknesses and do your best to plug the gaps with other good people or provide mentors within your organisation to help advise/mentor in areas where the talent is less than impeccable.

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What is good design?

Good design is not for me to judge; it’s more of a customer satisfaction metric.

After years of experience designing and evolving products I can give a good heuristic evaluation of a particular design with the aim of improving an existing solution. But heuristics don’t come close to evaluating whether the solution truly suits a customers needs and wants. The only way to do that is to gather data, synthesise the data, create hypotheses, test the hypotheses, learn (and repeat).

Good design brings maximum value to customers. Good design is always evolving through continual learning and improving.


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Moving to London!

It’s not often you get the opportunity to spend two years doing what you love in a new country with the potential upside of making a huge impact in a company in which you own some equity. So I’m excited to be moving to London to do just that for the next two years.

I’ll be analysing their business processes and identifying opportunities to leverage technology to streamline those processes, as well as working on their external-facing software product. The product is in its very early stages so there’s a massive opportunity to help shape and steer the product into the future.

The company was established back in 2005, and although I’m a founding equity holder, they’ve never actually had a full-time designer on site so I anticipate this role will require quite a bit of educating and cultural change. The current small team of two tech guys there are very comfortable and used to their waterfall approach to software development so I’m hoping it won’t be too much of a struggle to convert them to the enlightened ways of lean and agile.

Wish me luck!

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Interviewed by Desktop Mag

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Desktop Magazine as part of their campaign to raise awareness of the up-and-coming UX Australia 2012. The article can be found here:

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One of the things I’ve learnt over the last six months is, to be a great designer you need to take ownership of the things you do and how you do them…

Take ownership of the design of your product or project: You are the designer. Stand up for what you think is important. Speak for the users. Make your team see and understand what you feel is important.

Take ownership of the design process: If you don’t, who will? Don’t wait for others to tell you what to do. You are probably more qualified than PMs, tech leads or business managers to make decisions on the best methods to arrive at the best solutions.

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UX Australia – I’m speaking!

I just received some great news. I’ll be speaking at UX Australia this year in Brisbane!

“Potholes on the journey to design transparency”

This talk is about the journey from ‘secret design business’ to ‘design transparency’. It’s my own journey at Atlassian, relevant to anyone who is on, or about to embark upon, a similar journey. Industry leaders paint a picture of how things should be, and that’s great, but I’ve always had trouble bridging the gap. HOW do I get there? What do I do first? They make collaboration and design processes seem simple, but the truth is they’re hard. You may need to change both your own, and your team’s habits. This talk aims at bridging the gap by learning through some of my wins and even more importantly, my failures.

The talk will consist of the following ideas, each of which will have real examples, good and bad, and will conclude with a brief discussion point. I’d love to harness the wealth of experience in the room to broaden my talk, but also to emphasise the fact that the journey never ends. We’re all changing and adapting our process to constantly improve the outcomes of our work.

Read the full description on the UX Australia website

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Two years at Atlassian

Wow. The last two years has gone fast. It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I feel like I’ve learnt so much about software design and Agile practices. To think about the process I was using to design just two years ago it’s almost not believable.

When I first started at Atlassian 2 years ago I was placed on a team that had never had a full-time designer. I was expected to take a loose brief, go away for a while to work some magic in isolation, then return to pitch a solution I hope would gain some sort of consensus for a way forward. Developers were constantly asking when they were going to receive the designs. I never quite knew what success criteria my designs were measured against, or even when my designs were considered “done”?

After trying some things out (some successful and some unsuccessful), attending Interaction 11 was the catalyst that really going me going along the Lean UX route. It opened my eyes to the importance of sharing designs early and often, as well as the importance of collaboration within a multidisciplinary team.

Here’s to the next two years being just as good as the last!

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New features or user experience improvements?

It’s nothing new. These discussions have been had before.

It’s true that potential new customers probably look at a feature list before evaluating. If your app doesn’t have the feature they need you won’t get the customer. You could also argue that anything that has a horrible experience probably isn’t going to pass the evaluation. Juggling these two priorities is always a difficult thing in software.

As a designer, I’m usually advocating on behalf of the user’s experience, which usually means I’m wanting to fix that thing we only half finished in the last release, rather than working on a brand new feature. Truth is, it really depends on the market…

If you’ve got a fairly new product and don’t have much competition, your users will probably forgive an average user experience because it’s not easy to go elsewhere. If you’re entering an existing market with tough competition you’re going to want your user experience to be the point of difference because it’s going to be very difficult for you to compete on features alone. That said, you need to make sure you’re providing something useful from the start.

Many product teams feel the need to continually add new features. Their mentality is that this is the thing that sells upgrades and wins new customers. Customers put in requests for these features and we feel the need to make them happy. Giving customers what they think they want is not always the best use of time and resources.

If you’re working on a product that’s been around for a while and has an extensive list of features, you’re probably struggling with an ever more complex UI. Your app probably does 90% of what 90% of your customers want it to. On the flipside, you’ll probably also find that 80% of your users only use 20% of your features. If you value those 80% of your customers you will concentrate on making those core features the best they can be before someone beats you to it!

When it’s all said and done, we need to consider:

  1. Are we providing maximum value to the customer?
  2. Is this value greater than the pain they experience using it?
  3. Can they go somewhere else for a better value to pain ratio?

Once you know these things you’ll be better equipped to make a decision on new feature vs UX improvements.

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How to give good design feedback

When critiquing design, try to shift your focus from pointing out all the flaws in a design to giving the designer the feedback they need to improve it. With this in mind…

  1. Always criticise constructively, never castigate
  2. Always consider design alternatives that have sound reasoning and how it affects the user experience and not just your subjective personal opinion
  3. Always consider the larger context of where and how the product will be used and whether it needs to sit alongside other products
  4. Whatever you suggest, no matter how awesome, will always have trade-offs. Learn to consider how the user will perceive these trade-offs, not yourself
  5. Communicate. Smile. Enjoy the team work

Designers should not try to be superheros.

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