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To Boldly Glow: Experience Design without Borders

When creating user experiences, you need to understand the problem you’re designing a solution for. You’d better engage the users, the customers and stakeholders. You’d better evolve those insights into concepts, journeys, information architectures and design frameworks. You’d better work with the best build and delivery partners.

Most experience design agencies are set up to be able to do exactly this. Most experience design agencies do it pretty well. Mostly

Commoditisation of service offerings

However, as the experience design industry approaches a critical mass, such that it is able to commoditise its service offerings, those services cluster into a set of repeatable, predictable and marketable objects, like practice moths around a service flame. Some agencies might focus on the research cluster. Some might prefer to lead with the design and build cluster. Some might really be able to deliver them all as an integrated experience design offering.

But we’re evolving into digital utilities.

While those commoditised experience design services help clients and agencies agree on deliverables, costs and timelines, the resulting engagement might be less collaboration, more subscription. If a client really does have an articulated, addressable problem, and the service offerings have evolved to the point that we can deliver great user experiences without too much operational overhead, thank you, then everybody is happy. But what about the client that can’t articulate their problem? What if they don’t even have a problem? What if they just have a feeling that things could be somehow ‘better’?

Designing without borders

That’s where we need to take our experience design practice back to designing without service borders. We still gather insights. We still interpret and evolve. We still detail and deliver. But our engagement is based on our excellence in crafting experiences that delight customers and users. We don’t lead with services, we lead with design. Our designers are visionary. They understand the complexities. They’re vibrant, exciting and unique. They don’t shuffle into that workshop with brochureware, they walk in to that workshop self-aware. They boldly glow, and so they should.

listening post: daft punk – the grid

Learning workshops at a workshop workshop

Last night I plodded through the rain from a full day of usability testing to attend the latest UXDO practical session at Fortune Cookie in Clerkenwell. I took a lot from the previous better writing session with Martin Belam and Cennydd Bowles, and was looking forward to this session on better workshop facilitation. A workshop workshop, if you will. One of the main draws of the event was, again, the quality of the speakers that Sjors Timmer had managed to line up. This time, Leisa Reichelt and Giles Colborne were leading the session. Any time I’ve seen them speak, either on a stage, or at a bar, they always have something valuable to pass on and have a great, engaging style that really draws you in.

Having scribbled my twitter name on a post-it note and stuck it on myself (UX event protocol these days) I joined the session a few minutes late and notwithstanding Jonty’s assertion that he was drinking all the beer, I managed to pick one up and get stuck in. Which is the point of the UXDO sessions – to just get involved with your peers and learn what you can from each other. As Leisa mentioned, many of us have run successful workshops and are happy facilitating, but there’s always an opportunity to share those experiences, listen to others and discover new techniques and approaches that might take you just slightly out of your comfort zone and help make you a more well-rounded practitioner.

The thrust of the evening was, for the 25 or so of us, to identify what the barriers are to us being successful in facilitating workshops and how we might come up with solutions to help us overcome or address them. That was done over a 2 hour sprint of a workshop by way of brainstorming, affinity sorting, defining problem statements, comparing, ranking and collating, discussion and identifying solutions and rolling it all back together again. We threw in a bit of KJ method and shared tips and techniques along the way and, in the end, came away pretty satisfied with our outputs. At least, I was pretty satisfied. I mean, it was a pretty unrealistic workshop set up, but it was really successful in exposing methods, focusing objectives, setting expectations and understanding the kind of issues that might need considering in most workshop scenarios.

Leisa and Giles are even writing the whole thing up, which is an admirable commitment to the UX cause. Thanks to them for facilitating a great evening of learning and sharing. I even managed to crash the UX after-party (pub), since I didn’t have to travel back to Norwich, and had a rather nice conversation about the UX of allotments with Leisa and shared a ‘we seem to be the last ones here’ moment with Boon and Jeff before heading back to the hotel in Euston to watch an extraordinary football match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid on Spanish TV, which was rather less well facilitated than the workshop, it has to be said.

inheritance in user experience design

by which, I mean, inheriting someone else’s user experience design, or proposal, or thesis, or presentation, or, even, 5 year plan. there is nothing quite so painful but satisfying as developing your user experience methodology and describing, in the most insightful of prose, the application of the process unto the design challenge that is the growth target that begets the business that spawns the project that produces the artefact that describes the outcome that provides the design solution. from whence that design solution was so eloquently detailed is the brainism that you channelled and distilled and expertly crafted into methods and practices and timelines and checkpoints that spake of some experience alchemy magick’d up from your mind cauldron.

in other words, its nice to define a process that supports a practice that enables you to deliver against your goals and make the online world that little bit better each time. actually, that last bit might be a rather grandiose and pompous blart, but without there being kind of user experience light at the end of the funnel towards which we steer the online improvement charabanc, why would we bother?

therefore, having just said whatever I just said there, it’s a significantly greater challenge to mind-mangle a process design when it actually begins as someone else’s. I’m currently co-working on a proposal for developing an experience design practice that helps enable a business transition. except that proposal is someone else’s and I’m collaborating on the further development and enhancement to get it to where it ends up on a projector in a boardroom and people start raising their eyebrows and checking their iphones for status updates from farmville, but its a good challenge. its also a challenge that’s likely to make the outcome more successful. in this case, the two heads are much better than the one head. the one head being mine.

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