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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Passion, creativity, inspiration

“Do not go quietly unto your grave”

The words of the great Mark Sandman of the band Morphine. True to the song’s mantra, Mark Sandman died on stage at the age of 46. After his death the not-for-profit Mark Sandman Music Education Fund was established to give children the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and foster artistic goals and experiences.

The song is a message and a warning. Live life. Make no regrets. It’s a call to arms. Fight against mediocrity. I’ll admit I don’t always follow his advice, but I’m trying harder. Starting this blog is part of the journey. Personally I’d like to live a little longer than Mark, but listening to this song always reminds me of how important it is to be passionate about what you do. It reminds me that the things I often get distracted with are mostly irrelevant or insignificant. Passion, creativity, inspiration – make it happen.

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