Summary of ‘User experience fundamentals’ workshop

27 08 2011

On 24 August 2011, I participated in a workshop titled “User Experience Fundamentals” as part of the UX Australia conference, facilitated by Cennydd Bowles (@cennydd) and James Box (@boxman).

UX Design

I am a little confused to the exact difference between User Experience Design (UXD, UX Design) and User Centered Design (UCD). To be honest, I don’t think it really matters. What does matter is that this approach to design is about making things better and easier for humans.

Anyway, for those new to the field, UXD has evolved primarily through consideration of human factors and ergonomics also incorporating aspects of psychology, anthropology, sociology, computer science, graphic design, industrial design and cognitive science. UXD may also involve other content design disciplines such as communication design, instructional design, or game design.

The scope of the UCD process is directed at affecting “all aspects of the user’s interaction with the product: how it is perceived, learned, and used.”

This was an excellent workshop for people new to UX design as well as more experienced designers. James and Cennydd went through the essential steps of the UX design process and added in some great ways to get user information easily and cheaply.

We started off by looking at the juggling relationship between client and user by mapping strategies such as stakeholder interviews, defining organizational culture and goals to user needs to help a mutually beneficial outcome.

Some good “Red Flags”:

  • power problems
  • cash cows
  • enormous expectations
  • difficult deadlines
  • paralysing process

I really liked their hybrid approach to designing for usability  –  in particular their emphasis on finding the gap between business requirements and user needs.

It was great to also go through the UXD process with James and Cennydd to note that in almost all areas described, these approaches  have already been applied to Throughout the project we have evidenced positive results after three releases and a series of usability, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), accessibility and content reviews. The results can be demonstrated in the Google Analytics over time – increased number of page views with each visit, longer times spent on the website and a decreasing bounce rate (which means people leave as soon as they land on the home page).

A range of methods were discussed  and evaluated in the workshop including:

  • developing personas
  • market research
  • card sorting
  • user testing
  • prototyping

There was a strong distinction made between the role of personas and market research segments, as good UX design is for people. Personas are archetypes that are discovered via the process of market research but are identified and people and have names. Market research segments are grouped under categories like “grey nomads” or some such collective identity. The major drawback of using personas is that they ‘freeze time’ to the moment when the initial research was undertaken. A solution would be to go through another round of market research and a revision of personas at strategic times in the life of a project.

Sketching and prototyping

The practical part of the workshop focused on creating a design for a mobile application with a bus company as the client.  In groups we brainstormed using empathy maps, then individually we made six-up and single designs.

This led into more of a discussion on the best ways to rapid prototype (Agile) vs conventional functional specifications documents. James and Cennydd discussed prototyping as having a number of fidelities – low, medium and high. Low fidelity is using paper, pens, sticky notes (to create “pop-ups”),  and collage. Medium fidelity includes Omnigraffle, Visio, Fireworks, Illustrator, Keynote, Powerpoint, Balsamiq Mockups, Mockingbird and HTML image maps. High fidelity tools cover Flash, Dreamweaver, Axure and HTML/CSS and Javascript.

Basically the best approach is to incorporate at least two methods and each from different level of fidelity. It is important to also use the tools you feel most comfortable with. Be mindful if  you are prototyping in HTML/CSS and other high fidelity tools that it is not enough to remodel the prototype for the final design – i.e. it is not a short cut.

There was also a useful discussion on how to work effectively with developers and other key stakeholders by understanding their language, challenges and constraints.

The other good take home message was that “good designers are usually good users”, which I think is key especially when designing for web and social media platforms. The fundamental role of creating user-friendly online spaces is to provide a product or service in a way that easy and accessible . It is also important to encourage a conversation at a human level, to discover other needs and to build relationships.

At the end of the day all the participants received a copy of James an Cennydd’s new book “Undercover User Experience Design” (New Riders 2011), which provides a great summary of the workshop themes and strategies.


Donald Norman Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex and Information Appliances Are the Solution. MIT Press, 1999