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Interview

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Interview with Hannes Robier, Founder of World Usability Congress

An interview with Hannes Robier, Founder of World Usability Congress and CEO of Youspi, a UX consulting and training firm located in Graz, Austria. 

Hannes-Robier-Interview-UsefulUsability-SqMy friend Hannes Robier is a remarkable man. He founded and is CEO of a UX consulting and training firm, Youspi. He also founded the World Usability Congress, an international conference dedicated to UX, usability and related interaction design fields that has grown in attendance every year and attracts renowned speakers and audiences from around the world.

And, in his ‘spare’ time he is the non-paid President of the Research Lab for Interaction and Experience Labx, dedicated to the scientific exploration of new ways for customers and companies to engage with each other.

As I have predicted regarding the future of UX, Europe and Central Europe continue to grow in the UX field, and some of that growth can directly be attributed to Hannes and his work.

What is your background and education?

After earning my high school degree, I was dedicated to work within the area of Design. Back then, I didn’t yet know anything about Usability and User Experience.

Thus, I started to study Information Design at the University of Applied Sciences FH JOANNEUM in Graz, Austria. One small part of their curriculum was Usability and after my first into the topic, I was hooked and knew that my future professional endeavours would be within the Usability world.

What got you interested in usability and user experience?

At our first session at FH JOANNEUM we had to redesign the interaction concept for a video recorder. To me, it was incredibly impressive to see how much room for improvement there actually was and I instantly found the idea of making products better very enticing.

What is your profession and what products or projects are you currently working on?

Hannes-Robier-from-UsefulUsabilityI am UX designer.

In addition to that, I am the unsalaried President of the Research Lab for Interaction and Experience Labx.

My team and I are working within different areas to redesign various products. We are mostly working in an B2B environment so 90% of our projects are actually secret. Some of the companies we work for comprise local international companies like Magna Steyr, AVL, RedBull and others. On top of that, we are also working with startups to develop new innovative products in the area of medical, IoT or eCommerce.

What do you do for World Usability Congress and how did you start it?

I am the chairman and organizer of the World Usability Congress. To me, top priorities in the preparation phase include finding top-notch expert speakers that can add value and insights for our attendees, as well as finding sponsors. Creating memorable experiences throughout the entire Congress is my passion and my job.

We started in 2007 with the first World Usability Day in Austria. At the first event we had 30 attendees, but I already had the vision to organize an international UX congress, transgressing borders and attracting both attendees and speakers from all over the world. Back then, my Usability Professor was laughing at the idea of staging an international UX congress in Graz. Now, things have become real.

In your own words, what makes “an Experience” (User Experience)

To me, an Experience is a moment, a product, a conversation or the like that you remember and that you will talk about! An Experience always surpasses your expectations and therefore becomes memorable.

What do look most forward to at World Usability Congress?

I most look forward to meeting all the fantastic people – both attendees and speakers – at WUC and to discussing UX and potential joint projects with them. It is the perfect mash-up of expert speakers and visitors from various industries, as well as exciting side events and numerous networking opportunities around that makes the event such an amazing experience!

What’s your all-time favourite book? Why? (private or business)

It is a German book called “The New Toughness Training for Sports” by James E. Loehr which is all about mental power and certainly not only applicable in sports. It provides guidelines as to how to achieve your targets and visions and has formed an essential part of my life.

Thank you Hannes!

A big ‘Thank You’ to Hannes for taking the time for this interview. Hannes and others like him are a driving force in bringing better UX and design to Europe and the world. If you’ve not had the chance yet to attend the World Usability Congress, I hope you’ll put it high on your list for must-attend conferences. And who knows, maybe you’ll get a chance to meet Hannes in person, and learn more about how he’s been a driving force in promoting good user experiences world-wide.

Interview with Andrew Mayfield, CEO of UX Research Firm Optimal Workshop

Interview-Andrew-Mayfield-CEO-Optimal-Workshop-from-UsefulUsabilityThis is one in the continuing series of interviews with UX and Usability thought-leaders. This series focuses on bringing you up close and personal to individuals in our industry who are responsible for moving user experience, usability and design in a new and exciting direction.

Andrew Mayfield is the CEO of Optimal Workshop. Optimal Workshop provides a variety of UX and usability research tools designed to quickly and efficiently gather large amounts of user input for data-driven design decisions.

Q1. What’s your background? Where did you go to school, what subjects interested you?

I live in Wellington, New Zealand. I’ve wanted to run a business since I was twelve.  In primary school I sold computer games to the other kids at school, creating catalogues using MS Paint and placing orders through my father’s computer rental business. And I studied accounting, computer science, marketing, and e-commerce at Victoria University in Wellington.

Q2. How did you get into usability and the UX testing field?

I started a software company with a good friend in 2002. Neither of us had UX experience but we thought it made good sense to watch people using the software that we built. So we tutored a class at university together, and for 5 minutes at the end of our weekly tutorials we’d show our students what we’d been working on and give them a task to complete.

Then we just watched and took notes. We learned so much from doing this that I wondered at the time — and wonder still — how anyone ever designs anything useful without user research. It was years before I realized that what we were doing was so very rare.

Q3. What is it about UX and usability that you most enjoy, or find most rewarding?

I love working in UX and usability because it seems to attract a lot of other people who want to do right by those they’re designing for. Good people with good intentions abound.

It’s also great knowing that the work you do will save so many people from needless confusion and frustration because our research ensures they’ll actually find what they’re looking for — and enjoy the experience too.

Plus it’s good business, and good fun.

Q4. You are the CEO for the usability and UX research service Optimal Workshop, what was the inspiration for developing it?

All of the user research tools we’ve built are inspired by the needs of our consulting team at Optimal Experience (now part of PwC). We needed tools for doing more user research, more quickly, and more comprehensively. Thus, Optimal Workshop was born.

We’ve grown since then (more people, more tools), but our ethos has been the same the whole time: we want to create a world in which people don’t have to feel lost, confused, or frustrated while trying to find and do things online or when using digital products.

All the things in all the right places, essentially.

Q5. As a business owner and UX leader, what do you find were pitfalls with creating your business and finding clients interested in usability testing?

Andrew-Mayfield-CEO-Optimal-Workshop-from-UsefulUsabilityIf the globe had a corner, New Zealand would be it. It’s both good and bad being so far away from everywhere. Good because it means we have to be exceptional at practicing the remote research techniques that we preach, and bad because we spend a lot of time in the air when we want to connect with people (though that doesn’t stop us).

I haven’t had any trouble finding people who are interested in usability testing, even people who don’t call it that. Pretty much everyone I’ve met is interested in having a more effective website, intranet, or app.

Q6. Optimal Workshop contains several tools including a content tree testing tool (Treejack), a card sorting tool (OptimalSort), a first click analysis tool (Chalkmark), and a qualitative research tool (Reframer). Why these particular tools, what was the reason for creating them?

All our tools were built as solutions to problems we saw designers grappling with all the time.

We built OptimalSort, our card sorting tool, because our enterprise consulting clients wanted to see bigger numbers in our research. This made a lot of sense to us:  when it comes to making decisions based on user research, it’d be difficult for any company with 5 million customers to trust data from 5 people. So rather than fight against a culture of evidence based decision making, we built a tool designed to support it.

OptimalSort was built as a tool for quick remote card sorting, and efficient quantitative analysis. We’ve since added features to support qualitative insight gathering too, not least of which is the ability to print out the cards and do your card sorts the way it used to be done, on paper and in person, and to scan the cards back in for analysis.

Treejack came next. We coined the term ‘tree testing’ to capture a method pioneered by Donna Spencer, known then as ‘card based classification testing’. At first, we thought Treejack was ideal for validating the choices you make after conducting a card sort. But we now think the best approach is to benchmark your design with tree testing at the start of a project, to compare and rank different options against each other, and find out where the problems actually are so you can focus your next steps.

We built Chalkmark after research was published on the critical importance of first clicks in a person’s task success: an 87% task success rate for people who got the first click correct, compared 46% for those who did not. We wanted a tool that would effectively measure first clicks in response to tasks — and now it’s an indispensable tool for lots of people. Great to see!

Our latest addition to the Optimal Workshop suite is Reframer, a tool for collecting and analyzing observer notes from user research. Project teams can take notes during user tests and user interviews, add tags before and after sessions, explore relationships between observations alongside each other, spot themes quickly and easily, and so on. It’s in beta, and so far people are loving it.

Q7. Usability and UX researchers have a lot of tools to choose from, why Optimal Workshop?

Optimal Workshop’s tools are a joy to use—our primary differentiator will be your experience using them. Somewhat surprisingly, I’m quite sure you won’t hear this about most of the other options available. Of course we have all the features you need for effective tree testing, card sorting, first-click testing and observer note-taking.

The results you get from an Optimal Workshop study will be beautiful and ready to show to your stakeholders in a format they can understand and enjoy.

Our customer support is second to none. You can run studies in any of 70 languages and we can help you recruit quality participants. You’ll be in very good company with many of the the biggest enterprises and the smartest researchers in the world.

Q8. When you think about the changes to usability and UX over the past 2-3 years, what do you think the next 2 to 3 years has in store? What may be the ‘next big thing’ in your opinion?

People will stop thinking UX is special. The terminology is starting to settle, the taxonomists have almost finished arguing, and the jargon is becoming commonplace.

UX is really just considerate design.

Users are people. If this is true, then UX is design for people. As UX practitioners we know this already, of course, but the rest of the world is realizing there is no secret sauce too. Anyone can make a product better through research and design.

Everyone is doing it. And if they’re not, in 2-3 years they will be.

Q9. What’s next for you personally in your career, and for Optimal Workshop in the next year or two, what would you like to focus on?

Optimal Workshop has an exciting roadmap ahead, with new features and new products laid out as far as I can see. We also have a couple of fun R&D initiatives involving robotics and the psychology of emotion going on at the moment too. Stay tuned on our blog to hear about whether anything comes from these projects.

Personally, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the role of design, and how best to involve user research in projects involving real world objects and experiences over time that may or may not involve screens and/or what we traditionally think of as computers and phones. I’m interested in finding actionable answers to questions like:

  • What things are too difficult, expensive or tedious for user researchers and experience designers?
  • What about projects involving the internet of things (IoT), bio-computing, personal manufacturing, and robotics?
  • How can we ensure this new world is better than the last?

Q10. Finally, what advice do you have for those who want to get into the usability and UX field?

Jump on in. You can do it. One of the most exciting things about this young industry is that so many people come from such different backgrounds. This brings a wealth of perspective and a rich diversity of practice.

Everyone here is trying to make an aspect of the world better for the people in it, in their own way. You’ll meet some amazing people, both the users you’re working for, and the peers you’re working with. Welcome!

Thank you Andrew!

Note: Companies mentioned in this article may or may not be sponsors of this site. However, in no way does their sponsorship or lack thereof impact the results of this or any other editorial content on the site. The editorial content of this and all other articles written by the Editorial team is determined without regard to whether a company is a sponsor of the site or not.

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Interview with UserZoom Co-CEO Alfonso De La Nuez with Thoughts on the Future of UX

UserZoom-CEO-Alfonso-de-la-Nuez-Interview-UsefulUsabilityThis is one in the continuing series of interviews with UX and Usability thought-leaders. This interview series focuses on bringing you up close and personal to those individuals in our industry who are responsible for moving user experience, usability and design in a new and exciting direction.

Alfonso de la Nuez is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of UX and Usability research firm UserZoom. UserZoom is an enterprise-level all-in-one set of research tools for obtaining UX data across multiple user touchpoints.

Q1. What’s your background? Where did you go to school, what subjects interested you?

I have a BA in Business Administration from San Jose State University, with emphasis on International Business with Marketing. I’ve always been fascinated by the Business world, especially with Marketing and Branding strategies.

I lived the birth of the Internet while in college so I’m really passionate about the use of technology within Marketing. I believe at the end of the day, UX is nothing but great Marketing and Branding.

Q2. How did you get into usability and the UX testing field?

Since I had already connected technology with Marketing, UX came to me really easily and spontaneously. Back in 1998 I worked at a pioneering Web Design & Consulting company called Icon Medialab, out of Sweden. Even back then, the concept of HCI was highlighted and used for pitches and, although not that often, offered as part of the service.

As a Project Manager at Icon Medialab, I actually defined the information architecture and conceptual design of many of our customers. I realized then that, no matter how great the design team, we were literally making wild decisions and totally neglecting the end consumer.

I always felt wrong about it and so I ended up leaving the company and, eventually, started my own UX Consultancy, called Xperience Consulting. Xperience Consulting became UserZoom a few years later, and here we are today!

Q3. What is it about UX and usability that you most enjoy, or find most rewarding?

Since I went through quite a lot of ‘painful work experiences’ back in the late 1990s building million-dollar websites without real focus on the end user, what I enjoy the most is the ability to test things with a target audience before making an important decision.

Today, thanks to technology and the cloud, you can do this so easily, quick and cost-effectively, that it’s almost a crime not to conduct usability testing! 🙂

Q4. You founded the usability testing tool and service UserZoom, what was the inspiration for developing it?

I’ve pretty much already summarized it in the previous questions, but there is one more important thing: We needed to make usability testing and research more easy and, most importantly, we wanted to get out of the lab!

Before founding UserZoom we’d been in the Lab hundreds of times. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the ride and delivered solid value. We actually had 6 labs between 2 offices and 2 cities. However, this was not efficient, nor scalable.

We felt there had to be a way to collect data more cost-effectively, easily and also internationally.

Q5. As a business owner and start-up founder, what do you find were pitfalls with creating your business and finding clients interested in usability testing?

UserZoom has been in business since 2007. I can honestly say that, with the exception of a few power researchers who adopted this unmoderated testing method from the start, it took most of the UX community until 2012 to really go for it and adopt it in their organizations. That’s when we realized we had a real business opportunity ahead of us.

UserZoom-Team-Interview-UsefulUsabilityToday we find that a lot more people are interested in usability testing and UX measurement, not just the UX Pros. The remote testing method we offer makes it much more efficient and accessible to them.

Q6. From your experiences with managing UserZoom, what are the most important uses of your tool for businesses, how does it help them be more successful?

Without a doubt, it’s all about scaling their research. It’s all about Agile testing and REALLY making it part of the whole product development process.

It’s clear that iterative design is the best way to go, so UserZoom allows businesses to conduct multiple types of online research projects (task-based, card sorting, click testing, surveys, etc.) in a quick and cost-effective way, while having the consumers participating in their natural context.

Q7. There seem to be lots of competitors in the online UX testing and research tool category, what do you think makes UserZoom special or unique?

There are several things to consider. Starting with the fact that we’re an Enterprise-focused platform, which means you get:

  1. High-end, feature rich functionality
  2. All-in-one, multi-method approach under one single platform (again, from task-based tests, qualitative and quantitative data, card sorting, tree testing, click testing, 5-second tests, UX benchmarking, true-intent surveys and more), all pretty much for web and mobile.
  3. Lots of customization and ability to adjust according to our client’s needs. This includes recruiting with; sampling companies and custom panels, live visitor intercepts, Email links, QR codes, feedback tabs and more.
  4. Local UX research and consulting services and tech support, with offices in 4 countries
  5. Toughest data security standards in the market

Q8. What do you think the next year to two years will bring for UX and for usability research?  Do you see them growing or changing, if so why?

First of all, I see more companies than EVER doing more TESTING and EXPERIMENTATION than ever before. I see this resulting in much better overall DESIGN.

Then I also see great opportunities in mobile, and the power of testing in-the-wild.

Finally I see a lot of consolidation and convergence happening in the market. I think we’ll see a lot of Merger & Acquisition activity because the C-level executives, starting with the Chief Marketing Officer, are already valuing the strategic importance of combining business strategy with UX, CX (Customer Experience) and design strategy.

Q9. What’s next for you personally in your career, and for UserZoom in the next year or two, what would you like to focus on?

We’re building a truly GREAT business here. We’re 100% focused and more excited than ever before.

UserZoom-CEO-Alfonso-de-la-Nuez-UsefulUsabilityI personally would like to focus on doing all this pretty quickly, with the highest quality possible, and preserving the culture that’s made UserZoom a well-respected and recognized player within the space, particularly among the Enterprise market.

Q10. Finally, what advice do you have for those who want to get into the usability and UX field?

To understand that to be really great at UX today, you need to cover various areas of knowledge, including not just the classic sociology, psychology or anthropology, not just design, but also business and marketing.

UserZoom-CEO-Alfonso-de-la-Nuez-Basketball-UsefulUsability

Thank you Alfonso!

For more information on Alfonso’s all-in-one usability and UX research services or to request a free personalized Demo visit UserZoom.

Note: Companies mentioned in this article may or may not be sponsors of this site. However, in no way does their sponsorship or lack thereof impact the results of this or any other editorial content on the site. The editorial content of this and all other articles written by the Editorial team is determined without regard to whether a company is a sponsor of the site or not.

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Interview with Dave Garr, Co-founder of UserTesting.com

Dave Garr photo, co-founder of usertesting.com
Dave Garr, co-founder of Usertesting.com

My friend Dave Garr is probably one of the most non-famous Famous usability and UX thought-leaders around. If you’ve never heard his name, you very well may have heard of his creation: UserTesting.com. As a co-founder of UserTesting.com way back in the dark days of 2007, Dave and his team have made a major impact for all usability practitioners; a fast, low-cost and useful usability testing service that provides results in a day versus what used to take weeks. When he’s not re-inventing usability testing, Dave loves writing and performing song parodies. While at Apple, he recorded these videos: “I Think We’re a Clone Now” and “Killing My Software with Windows

If not busy enough completely re-creating remote unmoderated usability testing for the entire world, Dave won a Webby for his marriage proposal.

What’s your background?

My first brush with technology came during a summer job in college with a software company who developed EasyWriter, the first word processor for IBM’s PC. Fortunately, when I went through the interview process, no one asked me if I’d ever used a computer before.

I graduated from Cal Berkeley in Marketing, and I’ve overseen websites for several companies, such as Intuit, HP, and Apple.

I live in Palo Alto, California with my wife Elizabeth who encouraged me to pursue my startup dream, and my two young daughters who don’t seem to be even remotely interested in usability testing.

How did you get into the usability field?

I was managing Apple.com and I found myself drawn to watching Apple’s user experience labs. I was fascinated with how hard they worked to improve the out-of-box experience, or to decide on the use of color in the Mac OS, for example.

Then I read Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think.” It’s fantastic, particularly his chapter “Usability testing on 10 cents a day.” He makes it so simple: “Watch some people while they try to use [your site] and note where they run into trouble. Then fix it, and test it again.” That resonated with me. Since then, Steve has been kind enough to be a mentor to me.

What is it about your job that you most enjoy, or find most rewarding?

That’s easy. It’s when we release a new capability on UserTesting.com and a customer tweets or blogs about how it’s improved their life. Like one guy tweeted: “I nominate usertesting.com for a Nobel Peace Prize for preventing warfare between designers and developers. Don’t fight, test it and see.”

What is UserTesting.com and why should someone use it?

We like to think of it as usability testing without the hassle. You create the test, and we handle everything else, including getting the testers. We record the testers using your site, so you can virtually peek over their shoulders to discover your site’s problems. It’s $39 per tester and you get the results in about an hour.

Companies commonly test:

  • Their own website and landing pages
  • Competitors’ sites
  • Semi-functional prototypes and staging sites
  • Facebook games
  • Mobile apps

What was your motivation for creating UserTesting.com?

I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time in usability labs, and I was frustrated with how expensive and time-consuming it was. So I started doing a lot of quick and dirty usability testing with my family, coworkers, friends, neighbors, and — in those rare times that I could get up the guts–captive audiences at train stations.

So UserTesting.com solved a pain point that I had. And fortunately it’s a pain point that others have.

What have you learned while running UserTesting.com?

We launched our minimum viable product (MVP) four years ago. After every order, we emailed customers asking them “What can we improve?” We’ve received a lot of feedback because — believe me –our MVP had a lot of room for improvement. The request that we heard most often was this: “I want the participants to be my exact target market and not people on your panel.” So that’s the area we dedicated the most resources to build. Now participants don’t just have to come from our panel — they can also come from any of these places:

  • Live visitors on your website who’ve been intercepted
  • Your own customer list
  • Participants from third-party panels

Another thing we’ve learned: website owners care a lot about their competitors’ websites. As Steve Krug says, “Someone has gone to the trouble of building a full-scale working prototype of a design approach to the same problems you’re trying to solve, and then they’ve left it lying around for you to use.” In particular, our clients want to know what their competitors are doing right, so they can “borrow” it.

What advice do you have for other start-ups that wish to create an online service, whether usability related or otherwise?

If you only take away one thing from this interview, then by far and away, my biggest recommendation is: come work for us! We’re growing and want to hire more people who are passionate about rescuing the world from hard to use products.

But if you insist on doing your own thing, then here are some thoughts…

Do what you love. Since I’ve had to immerse myself in the topic of usability testing for four years, it was good that I was very interested in that topic. It would be hard for me to spend so much time every day thinking about a topic that I wasn’t passionate about.

Work with people you love. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to work with someone that you really enjoy. My co-founder, Darrell Benatar, had previously been a friend and co-worker, so I knew how well we got along.

Love your customers, even if a few take advantage of you. I’ve learned that providing great customer support is crucial. We’re trying to mimic Zappos on this one. We’ll give customers a refund, no matter what. Even if they ran tests years ago, combined the best clips into a highlight reel, and shared that highlight reel with hundreds of people; if they ask for a refund, we give it. Our customers don’t abuse our return policy–less than 1% of our customers request a refund. Best of all, by having great phone, chat, and email support, we get tons of feedback from customers about how we can improve our product.

What’s in the future for UserTesting.com? What changes or improvements are you working on?

Okay, I’ll tell you…as long as you promise to keep it a secret (laughs).

Probably my hardest job is deciding which feature to add next. We’ve learned from ConversionRateExperts.com to rate each feature (on a scale of 1-10) according to “How easy is it to implement?” and “How important is it to customers?” We multiply these two figures together to give an estimated return on investment. Next we build the feature that has the highest estimated ROI and then A/B test it.

Our DNA is about listening to customers. When a lot of customers ask for the same thing, we usually do it. The biggest things they’re asking for now are:

  • Improve our user testing of mobile devices. We’ve developed a mobile version of our platform, and making it better is a key focus of our product development for the foreseeable future.
  • Expand globally beyond the US, Canada, and UK.
  • UserTesting.com has made it easy for you to get feedback on your live website. However, as you know, the earlier in the development cycle you test, the easier it is to make changes. But we haven’t made it easy to test concepts. Shame on me for not doing a better job on that. So we’re going to try to make it easier to use UserTesting.com to get feedback in the ideation phase of the dev process.
  • Consulting services for our enterprise customers. We create the test plan, make clips of the places where testers got stuck, and recommend how to fix the biggest problems found.

What do you think the next few years will bring for usability?

Computing is moving from one screen — a computer accessing the web — to four screens: a computer, a tablet, a phone, and a smart TV.

Let me quote a usability expert named Craig Tomlin! You’ve talked about the next big UX trend is understanding that “user experience” does not mean just “web site experience” or “mobile experience” or “phone experience” or “store experience. ”

Companies will stop designing each experience in a vacuum. They’ll start putting together the holistic understanding of the entire “user experience.”

You used the example of how someone buys a car. She may go to several websites to evaluate car brands. She may use her mobile phone to schedule test drives. She may ask friends on Facebook or other social sites about their opinions. She may build and configure her ideal car on her iPad. Eventually she goes to the car lot and negotiates with the dealer. Given that she has interactions that transcend any single experience, why would car companies design the user experience she has with the website without considering the other critical interactions she’ll have during the car buying process?

What’s next for you and your career in the next year or two, what would you like to focus on?

Sentiment analysis. Sentiment analysis is software that mines text for meaning and insight. It’s often used to extract opinions and emotions from social media to help companies determine how people feel about their products.

Sentiment analysis is an extremely difficult problem, but it’s a problem that will eventually be solved. When the problem is solved, it’ll cull through a massive amount of text and automatically call attention to the biggest, most frequently mentioned issues. This will increase the value of qualitative tools like open-ended survey questions and transcripts of user testing.

Thank you Dave!

 

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Interview with Mads Soegaard, Founder of Interaction-Design.org

My friend Mads Soegaard is a man possessed. Possessed by the feeling that information, especially information about usability, should be readily available to all. To that end he’s literally poured his full devotion, time and energy (and money!) into Interaction-Design.org. What would turn a mild-mannered programmer and all around good guy into a fanatical devotee of web-based education for all? Well, read on!

Q1. What’s your background? Where did you go to school, what subjects interested you?

Mads Soegaard
Mads Soegaard, founder of Interaction-Design.org

 

I’ve taken the majority of my education here in Denmark. I have a master’s in “Information Studies” and studied a PhD in computer science, which I never finished.  I love anything that’s highly theoretical and highly practical at the same time. I get bored when I do too much of one or the other: After going to an academic conference and reading a lot of academic papers, my fingers begin to itch and I want to do practical programming and design wireframes. But after a while I begin to long for the theoretical stuff again.

Q2. How did you get into interaction design and usability field?

It seems I’ve always been here. I started a web development company way back in 1997 and our quickly made usability our hallmark. Since then, it has stuck with me. I think it’s because I have a love-hate relationship to technology. Some days I really hate technology, swear at it, and find it so frustrating, time-consuming and nerdy. On other days, I love it and appreciate how much it helps me.

Q3. What is it about interaction design and usability that you most enjoy, or find most rewarding?

Making cool stuff that works well and makes other people happy. It’s really as simple as that.

Q4. You founded the interaction-design.org site.  What is interaction-design.org and why should someone use it?

It’s a new model for publishing. Instead of our community producing books that are read by only a few thousand people in the Western intellectual hemisphere, we want to teach millions of people about usability and interaction design. Not just the paying ones but everybody. From New York to New Delhi.

Q5. As founder of interaction-design.org, what was your motivation for creating this tool – why did you believe interaction-design was needed?

Because I‘ve read so many fantastic books by fantastic authors. I believe these authors have the minds to change the world. However, they are not going to – as long as their works are only read by a few thousand people. We need top-grade educational materials to be accessible online for the whole world to enjoy and learn.

Q6. From your experiences with how people use your website, what content or key learnings seem to be the most popular, and why do you think that is?

The encyclopedia and our calendar are the most popular sections. They get about 3,000 unique readers a day.

Q7. What advice do you have for other start-ups that wish to create an online education service, whether interaction-design related or otherwise?

My advice is to:

  • Save up a lot of money – and be willing to spend it all during your startup process
  • Be able to live on oatmeal for several years
  • Be willing to sell your car, remortgage your house, and let go of your fancy title
  • Have a determination like few other people
  • Put almost everything on the line

Q8. What’s in the future for interaction-design.org, what changes or improvements are you working on?

Well…that’s a secret but it will be revealed August 1st, I hope. If we’re not late J

Q9. What do you think the next year to two years will bring for interaction design and usability?  Do you see it growing, if so by how much?

I see it growing a lot. Our everyday lives are getting packed with technology and every little shop on every street corner has a website. So whether you’re designing websites or mobile phones or household object, you’ll be needed more and more in the coming years.  People get frustrated with technology every day and we’re like doctors in that sense. We cure frustrating and time-consuming technology.

Q10. What’s next for you and your career in the next year or two, what would you like to focus on?

Well…that’s a secret but I’ll be happy to share the news with you on August 1st

Thank you Mads!

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An Interview with Whitney Quesenbery

Whitney Quesenbery
Whitney Quesenbery

This is an interview with Whitney Quesenbery, one in a series of interviews with people in our industry who have made a difference in the usability field.

Whitney Quesenbery has a distinguished career in usability. She’s a noted author of two books, Storytelling for User Experience: Crafting stories for better design, with Kevin Brooks and Global UX: Design and research in a connected world, with Daniel Szuc.

Among other things, Whitney has given of her time by leading our industry as President of the Usability Professional’s Assocation, serving on two U.S. government advisory committees and by leading the Usability in Civic Life project, which aims to improve civic design projects such as voting improvement on ballots and related election materials.

Q1. What’s your background? Where did you go to school, what subjects interested you?

I started out as a theatrical designer in New York. What I loved about working in theatre was that it was live performance, which means that the audience is part of the event, and the show is never exactly the same from night to night. There’s a lot of technology in theatre lighting, and I was in the first generation of designers to learn on computer boards. The combination of technology and art was a great preparation for UX, where we are always trying to understand how other people react to things we create.

Q2. How did you get into usability field?

It was serendipity, really. I started by writing documentation for Hyperties 2.3 and I ended up working with Cognetics for 12 years on a wonderful variety of projects. All of our projects focused on making information usable – from large knowledge bases to complex data – so I got introduced to what was then called “usability engineering.” The terminology has changed over time, and we have a more varied toolkit these days, but the biggest difference between then and now is how much more common and  routine user research and usability testing is today.

Q3. What is it about usability that you most enjoy, or find most rewarding?

I love the sense of discovery. Every project is a chance to learn something new. Most rewarding? That would have to be the opportunity to work on projects that can make a difference in people’s lives.

Q4. You recently wrote the book “Storytelling for User Experience,” what was the inspiration for writing it?

I’d been talking about stories in our work for several years, and wrote a chapter for Tamara Adlin and John Pruitt’s book on narrative and personas. Lou Rosenfeld nudged me into thinking about how this could become a book. I’d met Kevin Brooks at a UPA conference. With my user research perspective and his design innovation perspective, we brought together two important aspects of storytelling in UX.

Q5. As a frequent user researcher and information architect, what do you find are common issues or misunderstandings clients have about UX and IA?

Everyone struggles to figure out how the pieces fit together. It leads to silos, even within UX. Lou Rosenfeld talks about this in his plea for us to bring together all of the data and insights from both quantitative sources like analytics and qualitative sources like user research.

The other common misunderstanding, is that UX is a single process, one-size-fits-all. From my experience, it’s not.  Every project is different, so the specific activities need to be adjusted, within an overall approach, to answer the questions each project poses. As a consultant, I work with companies with different situations, so I’m often figuring it out with them, looking for the best solution for their teams and how a new way of looking at a problem can help them.

Q6. From your experiences with how people use Personas and storytelling for UX projects, what key aspects seem to be the most useful, and why do you think that is?

The real value of both personas and storytelling is the way they give us a clear, human picture of the people we design for. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the mechanics of creating technology and forget that there are real people out there. The other really important value of personas is in helping us empathize with people who are not just like us. They let us understanding people from different cultures, professional backgrounds, with different beliefs or attitudes about our products. That ability to get outside of our own perspectives is critical to user experience. It’s why we do user research and usability testing.

Q7. You’ve been active with the Usability Professional’s Association for some time.  What do you think are issues or opportunities with the UPA in relation to usability and UX today and in the future?

Every professional organization that I know of is struggling to find its place in a networked society. They used to be the way you met other people in your field for professional contacts, advocacy and education. Those monthly newsletters were a way to keep up with the field. But what’s the unique value a  formal organization offers now? And how do they keep up with a field that is growing and evolving so rapidly? I don’t have the answers, but I know that a walled garden doesn’t work well in the face of so much competition. There are so many great online options and excellent local conferences that are no longer under the umbrella of a professional association.

Q8. What do you think the next year to two years will bring for usability and information architecture?  Do you see them growing or changing, if so why?

There’s now so much in the business press about the importance of user experience and I see basic UX techniques like personas, card sorting, and usability testing being taught in so many courses that it’s starting to feel like we’ve passed a tipping point of some kind. So yes, I see it continuing to grow. But, I also think they will keep evolving. For example, we’re learning how to integrate usability into the agile development approaches. And I’m seeing a wider range of methods for usability testing to meet the needs of global and mobile projects. The world doesn’t sit still: we can’t either.

The other big trend is related to how fast the field is growing, because it’s growing everywhere. So we will have to learn how to collaborate with colleagues around the world. I learned a lot about the issues working with Dan Szuc on Global UX: Design and research in a connected world. As a small example from my current work, one of my projects focuses on accessible voting. We collaborated with OpenIDEO on a challenge to develop new ideas for how to design an accessible voting experience. The designers who participated were from Great Britain, Turkey, Cambodia, Australia, India, just to name a few.

Q9. What’s next for you and your career in the next year or two, what would you like to focus on?

I’m interested in how we create technology that is inclusive, so that we don’t continue to create digital divides that leave some people behind.  I’ve been working on a book with Sarah Horton about how to design for accessibility.  It won’t be a technical book – there are already lots of great resources out there for that. Instead, we’re trying to articulate how we can think about design in a way that leads naturally to more accessible products.  Like the concept of “mobile first,” if we also think about “accessibility first,” we’ll end up with websites and apps that work better for everyone, because they are more focused and simpler.

Thank you Whitney!