"The user experience is a metric." Brief high-level practical design strategy thinking and strategy by Michael Schofield.
Exnovation, the Iceberg Model, and Expertise is Over-valued
7:18I want to share a few totally unrelated pieces of thinking that caught my eye. This will be a shorty but I think you’ll find it interesting. 1I am taken with this concept of exnovation, which is the counterbalance of innovation. To constantly make something new, you have to dismantle the old; to organize your team around iterating and innovating you need to systematize the dismantling. This is from a post on Medium by the Politics for Tomorrow, who - in the same spirit of championing failure with slogans like “fail cheaply” or “move fast and break things” - demonstrate the necessity of embracing the phasing-out of stuff by showing it as part of a larger system of innovation. They discovered that stabilizing the new is not enough to achieve systemic change. In order to embed innovation in an existing “regime” or status quo, non-sustainable technologies and the related systems, infrastructures and livelihoods around these technologies had to be phased out in a deliberate and socially responsible way. Super cool.2Subject matter expertise in product design is over-valued. In his advice in hiring a head of product, Rich Mironov describes some of the biases subject-matter experts have in design decision making - usually having to do with lack of respect for the need for constant discovery. “I know about advertising, so I know ….” etc. This should probably resonate with you all who value the process and rituals of user experience design, where good design is the result of disciplined practice. This then emphasizes the value of solid practitioners, an de-emphasizes the value of experts.3Perhaps the best way to sum-up my gripes with personas is that personas are easier to get wrong than right, and wrong personas are more likely to inspire resistance rather than empathy. This insight originated with a post from Christin Roman. In their conclusion they suggest alternatives - but honestly in my conclusion the value of any kind of user archetype is a red herring.4The near future of remote work is going to be very, very messy. It starts with the illusion that a remote worker moving somewhere with a cheaper cost of living will get to keep their salary, and then it will be encumbered by a struggle for privacy. I mostly just want to share this snippet from an article by the Economist (paywall):Already the gig economy has shown that it is out of date. Now new prickly questions about workers’ rights and responsibilities loom: can firms monitor remote workers to assess their productivity? Who is liable if employees injure themselves at home? Any sense that white-collar workers are getting perks will create simmering resentment in the rest of the workforce. 5What underlies patterns in user behavior? Structure. Specific touchpoints in an existing process, organizational pressures, policies and rules of thumb, or even rituals. I don’t know how best to credit this post without an author, but the folks at Eco Challenge (?) added levels of thinking to the familiar Iceberg model. This is interesting to me because I suppose I never really said aloud what this makes obvious: patterns are supported by the things we, or our predecessors, made. That means we can improve or unmake them. This is a powerful observation.EndConsider liking (❤) this issue of Metric if this made you think. Metric is a podcast, too. Subscribe to Metric on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, and all the usual places. I write about design and philosophy in another newsletter called Stoic Designer. Read “Letter 76: Shirking Routine,” then subscribe. Get full access to Metric by Michael Schofield at metricpodcast.com/subscribe
The Value of Design in Hard Times
3:59When the market’s taken a spill, when your earned revenue is down then the easiest line-items to cut are those that involve external consultants. Should you? Get full access to Metric by Michael Schofield at metricpodcast.com/subscribe
What is the difference between UX and CX?
6:17Listen now (6min) | Let’s be clear, many folks have thrown-in. This question has loads of answers, and this writeup will likely not make it to the top of the search engines. So, what more is there to say? This: it’s not the answer that matters so much as is the philosophy that shapes it. Get full access to Metric by Michael Schofield at metricpodcast.com/subscribe
Gutenberg doesn't disrupt WordPress
11:27Gutenberg isn’t a breakthrough innovation that made WordPress better. It’s a disruptive innovation making WordPress more affordable and accessible. — Mark Uraine, “Disrupting WordPress”A couple weeks ago I read Mark Uraine’s writeup about the disruptive role Gutenberg — the new block-based editor (and system of editor-extensibility) — performs for WordPress, the open-source juggernaut powering a third of the web. It nails why the WordPress community has been so hyped (and it’s in a language I speak):Why would anyone want to change this? The short answer is expressed best in the quote, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” Software must evolve or it becomes archaic and dies. This bring us to the concept of disruptive innovation, originally conceived by Clayton Christensen. Disruptive innovation describes the process when a more simplified product or service begins to take root in an industry and advances up the market because of its ease of use and/or less expensive entry point. … The great companies plan for this. In fact they make efforts to self-disrupt, or innovate in ways that cause their own service or product to be disrupted. … WordPress has reached this intersection.— and for many folks, Gutenberg represents that self-disruption. It is a shot of espresso. A spurt of vitality intended to make the sluggish, successful ol’ man spry. It’s a little bit of good magic that wards off the heebie jeebies.I think Mark’s is the best argument for Gutenberg there is. I’m also not convinced. I want to use “Disrupting WordPress” as an opportunity to demonstrate how to think about innovation, so I am going to start by putting the kibosh on the idea that Gutenberg is the saving grace the community around it thinks.Is Gutenberg disruptive? No - at least not like that.Product is a windowClay Christensen’s disruptive innovation is key to the point I want to make, and that is that we should be skeptical about the consensus assumption that what has to change about WordPress is the way content is created. I phrase it like this because Gutenberg really is more than a UI: it represents a fairly different content model beyond just how pieces of content are chunked together by end-users, but how that content is treated in the database, and how developers interface with all that new tissue. Moreover, the ad hoc governance that has organized around Gutenberg to help ensure its inclusivity and accessibility is functionally of greater importance than the Gutenberg codebase altogether. It makes sense that because there are plenty of usability studies betraying WordPress’s ease-of-use as a myth, that we-the-community target these usability problems with our innova-sers. Ease-of-use is a killer differentiator when you choose one product over another - but usability is flavor, not sustenance.Disruption requires identifying a misalignment between a person’s core job-to-be-done and the service they’re provided. The secret to winning the innovation game lies in understanding what causes customers to make choices that help them achieve progress on something they are struggling with in their lives. To get to the right answers, Christensen says, executives should be asking: What job would consumers want to hire a product to do? — Interview by Dina Gerdeman with Clay ChristensenThe product — and the features of the product — don’t fundamentally matter unless the user needs something that you can provide them. Is the WordPress user’s core job to be done to have a usable content-creation experience? No. It’s not even to create content in the first place. Rather, the core job of the WordPress user is to — for example — provide candle-junkies like me with candles, and make a living from it. “WordPress” isn’t really part of that function. It just happens to be the means to an end. The interface, the content, even WordPress itself are ephemeral. While easing the work involved in creating content improves a holistic user experience, it’s not enough. The reason Squarespace (et al.) has room to succeed in an internet dominated by WordPress is not because it has a better page-builder, it’s because for some users it is easier to envision their end goal met on the far-side of the Squarespace gauntlet. By looking at Squarespace, they can “see” their next candle-funded beach vacation.Product is a window.Broad applicability is a marketing challengeListen closely to the ubiquitous Squarespace ads on any podast. Right (!), they mention ease of page-building - but they underscore the reason why such ease is valuable: so you can be done with that page-building s**t and continue on with your remarkable life.The job-to-be-done is “to have a successful business.” Squarespace provides the service of getting you there faster with an easy page-builder. The page-builder is the how, and the ease is the differentiator - the cherry on top. People don’t choose the cherry, though. The Squarespace business model depends on how well they can match the job people have to the service they provide.WordPress has been successful precisely because its service aligns well with gajillions of jobs. This I think compounds the difficulty the WordPress community has in communicating meaningfully granular services that are afforded to alternatives. Specificity helps evangelism.Rather than 1 job to address (“you need to become a dope ass participant in the blogosphere?”) there are 30 million — the difficulty of communicating that job/service alignment at scale is a real obstacle.It is easy to imagine and vouch for WordPress’s wide servicability, but it’s hard to communicate to the individual who is choosing between it and Squarespace. Product is a window, and users’ vision through the WordPress window is a little obscured.This is, in part, why the ecosystem of professional WordPress development companies thrives: these companies, like Ninja Forms, identify a niche of jobs-to-be-done and serve them specifically.Tangent: seeing Ninja Forms in terms of job/service alignmentTo go on a brief tangent, the job Ninja Forms serves isn’t really the demonstrable need to manage web forms. They are facilitating people’s need to control how their users connect with them. Forms, and — specifically — forms through WordPress are choices about how and to what niche to provide that service.Consider then how WordPress isn’t spiritually part of the job/service alignment between the job-to-be-done of the Ninja Form user and the service provided by that team. They’re not really married to that platform, they just have a good working relationship. WordPress is an important technical constraint, but it’s a means to an end. It’s ephemeral.The WordPress community’s research problemBy increasing WordPress’s extensibility through new APIs, even by adding new hot-right-now features into Gutenberg, the WP core team are addressing the jobs-to-be-done of those professional WordPress developers more directly than any WordPress end user - who I’m arguing doesn’t really care about the ease of use of the editor (they care insofar that the editor doesn’t get in their way).And why is that? Well, I think it’s because developers are WordPress’s strongest feedback loop. Mark Uraine even made a comment about how usability studies revealed pain points in WordPress’s editor, but I haven’t been convinced otherwise that the WordPress core decision makers have anything other than usability studies about existing features.Problem.Usability studies reveal touchpoints in a user journey that need to be addressed. A tree needs to be moved off the sidewalk, or a pothole needs to be filled. But usability studies don’t question whether the user should be on this path in the first place.Disruption, after all, is born from Insight. Insight is the byproduct of strong research, particularly around users’ jobs-to-be-done, and I just don’t think the WordPress community has any of that. If they did, I frankly think folks would be less hyped about Gutenberg.Gutenberg is fine. The work there is about addressing the need to reduce in WordPress the number of steps between the user and their published content. That’s the right move to support a status quo.It’s not disruptive. It disrupts nothing. It improves existing.This past year has seen remarkable and laudable collaboration around governance and accessibility in WordPress, which are the right foci that address real problems around the community, its users, and inclusivity. The next WordPress community movement should be around establishing a strong research program that can provide the research-derived Insight necessary for WordPress’s future.Without sufficient qualitative research, don’t expect WordPress to self-disrupt any time soon.Liking (❤) this issue of Metric helps signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth your time. Please take the time. If you haven’t already, please subscribe.Metric is a podcast, too, which includes audio versions of these writeups and other chats. Subscribe to Metric on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, and all the usual places. Remember that the user experience is a metric.— Michael (@schoeyfield) Get full access to Metric by Michael Schofield at metricpodcast.com/subscribe
UX Design is Morally Gray
2:52Folks tend to disagree with me whenever I say that user experience design is morally gray: there is no inherent requirement to making user experiences people like and prefer to competing experiences that leave users — morally or ethically — better off. Ethical design is a qualifier.This is an important distinction and nuance to design work that is critical to accept if we intend to push best practice in a more deliberately ethical direction. It empowers individual designers, teams, companies, entire verticals, even disciplines to differentiate themselves by choosing to design ethically. Assuming that good user experience design work has good intentions is dangerous — and naive.This also means we must divorce the relationship by what we do (design to improve the user experience) from how we do it (ethically, or not). It means that to be ethical we must choose to be so at each step of the design process, at each touchpoint between conception and performance of a service.To frame ethical user experience design like this make it easier to appreciate how difficult it is to create an ethical product or service. Perhaps not by intent — we all think we’re the heroes of our own story — but because the design of a thing is the culmination of a hundred decisions, hard ones. The CEO in the business of providing an ethical service might fail because of decisions made in engineering, or because they chose to design to optimize a conversion metric instead of some other made-up number.It is for this reason we need to make time and resources available to design the design process, creating systems of checks and balances not just for quality assurance that a button can be pressed, but for ethical stresses.Liking (❤) this issue of Metric helps signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth your time. Please take the time. If you haven’t already, please subscribe.Metric is a podcast, too, which includes audio versions of these writeups and other chats. Look for Metric UX in your favorite podcatcher.Remember that the user experience is a metric.Michael Get full access to Metric by Michael Schofield at metricpodcast.com/subscribe
Can jobs-to-be-done replace "Front End Developer"?
The Temporal Midpoint of the Sprint
4:42The two-week sprint is totally arbitrary. We adopt the convention without really questioning the wisdom, but by such dogma of what’s-good-for-the-gander bake someone else’s practice into our organizational infrastructure. The thinking is that two weeks is just about the right time to prototype, test, scrutinize, and deliver a feature. But, is it?All it took was David Grant raising that question as part of the Facebook Journalism Accelerator about this time last year for those of us at WhereBy.Us to concede the point and, within a week or two, consolidate to one-week sprints. Basecamp, just being Basecamp, shrugs the sprint convention all together, and just published a book that largely makes it clear we’re all just navel-gazing guppies trying to emulate other startups. Shape Up, that book ☝️, made me question what practical reason do we actually need backlogs, or sprints, which was a refreshing reality check. I admit I find doing away with the backlog compelling - but that’s another writeup. Sprints, though? While reading about Basecamp’s six-week cycles, it dawned on me that the key feature of the sprint is its temporal midpoint. That is, given any deadline, your activity declines until you’re midway through a milestone before climbing. Why? You realize time is running out. This is described by Daniel H. Pink as the “Uh-oh Effect” in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing:After the first meeting there is a period of prolonged inertia, then a sudden transition followed by a new, more productive direction.Human culture is organized around temporal milestones — the beginnings, middles, and ends of things — and so, subsequently, are our moods, hopes, productivity, and the like. The sprint is an arbitrary division of time we tend to conflate with the timeline of a deliverable, but after about a year of one-week sprints I argue the deliverable is the least important aspect. Rather, the sprint is a structure for sustainably pacing our team’s movement through a service provision by placing temporal milestones at advantageous points.Beginning: the beginning of the sprint is a fresh start. It’s like New Year’s Day. We make good initial progress keeping our resolutions. We’re hopeful.Midpoint: the midpoint of the sprint is the ticking clock. It is, no lie, a stressor. It’s designed to make you go oh, shoot, and be honest with yourself and your squad about your progress.Ending: the ending of the sprint is the dropping of the curtain. Time’s up, we touch base, we fist bump, we move on.Temporal milestones have different emotional tones and the midpoint tends to be the more anxious. Knowing this, however, allows you to design for those emotions, providing another project management tool for templating a mentally healthy sprint. For instance, if the anxiety of the temporal midpoint is related to the build-up of to-do items you scramble get on top of, what if we just reduce the number of to-do items? Without reducing velocity, if you cut the sprint in half — from two weeks to one week — you move-up the temporal midpoint significantly, which not only reduces the number of to-do items that got away, but literally reduces the stress period between midpoint and temporal ending. This is anecdotal but I’ll make a note to check the numbers, but I believe the temporal boon of the one-week sprint is a factor behind the increased “greenness” of the company’s team health. At a glance this feels counter intuitive, because surely one-week sprints equate to higher stress, but the reality is that in that same two-week period we have twice the emotional highs (beginning and ending milestones), and our milestone-related emotional lows are much briefer.Liking (❤) this issue of Metric is a super way to brighten my day. It helps signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a few minutes of your time.Metric is a podcast, too, which includes audio versions of these writeups and other chats. Look for “Metric UX” in your favorite podcatcher.Remember that the user experience is a metric.Michael Schofield Get full access to Metric by Michael Schofield at metricpodcast.com/subscribe
The Service Reactor
4:57We pitch this idea of operational user research as a means to scale and democratize user experience design practice across an organization. For decision makers already familiar with our user-centric-business gospel — reminder: aggregation theory demonstrates how the user experience is the differentiator for services that have no cost of distribution (because the internet is free); or: good UX is good business — but are concerned about costs, then all they need to hear is how a few tweaks to the workflow and a Google spreadsheet can get the wheels turning with little to no overhead.It’s easyish to imagine how making the tools to curate feedback you’re already intercepting (emails, reviews, comments on Facebook) easy to use will over time aggregate a robust catalog of that feedback, which decision makers can use to gut-check their ideas. That hot return on a small investment is why no-frills ResearchOps is hard to argue against. We often stop our evangelizing there.The long game is interesting, though. Spin something like this up then take a gander at your organization’s RPG skill tree, where a few experience points and a snowball-effect leads you to the service reactor.The service reactor is this work-in-progress model to demonstrate how a virtuous user research cycle and a commitment to discovery-validated delivery will generate enough proven insights to power a small city.That’s a lot of made-up vocabulary designed to just consolidate this s**t to a single sentence, so let’s break this down.A “virtuous user research cycle” describes a system where your effort to make sense of some data results in the design of the next test to perform, the results of which return to the system. “Discovery-validated delivery” is a requirement that end-user facing features of a product or service won’t be pursued until their demonstrable need and solution can be proven by existing user research. A chain reaction beginning by cataloging raw data — survey answers, interview transcripts, a/b results, and so on — creates tactical and strategic insights, some aspects of which require more validation thus foreshadowing the next round of tests. Like a nuclear reactor, discovery-validated delivery creates pressure to perform those tests, which continues the chain reaction.The chief product of the service reactor are insights that we use to validate our business decisions. At small scales, examples of these insights are:evidence we need to rethink our menu structure because it’s confusing users,indication that users need a way to opt-in to plain-text emails,validation that this call-to-action works better than that one.But as the catalog grows over time, new patterns emerge among unrelated sets of data, and that compounding value directly correlates to the scale of new insights. These are demonstrable proof that there is need among the userbase for entirely new services, let alone features. What’s more, because the service reactor creates insights as the byproduct of a process rather than insights that are specifically sought-out, the resulting service ideas may be orthogonal to your existing service provisions.This is the drill maker getting into the business of designing entertainment units*. A service reactor powers the “innovation mill.”The most important ethic I’m trying to convey with the service reactor is that while it is a vision to motivate an organization’s investment in ResearchOps, it is fundamentally user centric. Over time, there is no part of a service or product that is not derived from user research. The reactor ionizes the air with user centricity. You can’t help but breathe. Note: The drill metaphor is one of the core fables to the jobs-to-be-done approach to design thinking. It basically explains how the drill-maker that is most successful when their drill is an aisle filled with other drills is the one who realizes that people aren’t buying a drill but the mounted television on the wall. The drill is a means to the end. What I’m saying is that an orthogonal business for the drill-maker is in entertainment units: both drill and furniture are means to an end when the job-to-be-done is to relax in a finished living room.Liking (❤) this issue of Metric is a super way to brighten my day. It helps signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a few minutes of your day.Metric is a podcast, too, which includes audio versions of these writeups and other chats. You’ll find it in your favorite podcatcher.Remember that the user experience is a metric.Michael Schofield Get full access to Metric by Michael Schofield at metricpodcast.com/subscribe
33:30In this episode of Metric: the UX Podcast,we talk about how we deal with signal overload and notification fatigue in our design work (and in life), and our strategies for staying sane in a super neurotic discipline. Follow Metric: the UX Podcast on Twitter @metricpodcast Follow Michael on Twitter @schoeyfield Follow Tim on Twitter @uxbear Get full access to Metric by Michael Schofield at metricpodcast.com/subscribe
What UX Can Learn from Ouija Boards
30:26In this episode of Metric: the UX Podcast, we investigate what ouija boards and World War 1 teach us about design solutions, that innovation lies in not immediately thinking that the problem can be solved by an app. Follow Metric: the UX Podcast on Twitter @metricpodcast Follow Michael on Twitter @schoeyfield Follow Tim on Twitter @uxbear   Get full access to Metric by Michael Schofield at metricpodcast.com/subscribe