how to compete in a user-centric world uX design in Canada: 1

uX design in Canada:
how to compete in
a user-centric world
Table of Contents
Shane Schick
The Imperatives Driving UX
• What UX designers need to understand about their future,
Shane Schick
• The culture UX designers could create, CommerceLab
From the pros: How UX works
• Reframe user experience challenges as motivations:
• Want to bake in an engaged user experience?
Advice from IBM, Kimberley Peter and Adam Archer
It’s a piece of cake, Tim Hundt
UX in Action
• What banking on a mobile phone should look (and feel) like 26
• The UX design shift mHealth is bringing to Canadian patients
Shane Schick
• Twitter’s UI changes: Some user experience takeaways, 33
Jon Cook
Danny Bradbury
• Inside Dell’s approach to the UX of PCs, laptops and more Shane Schick
Profiles in Innovation
• Akendi explains the ethnography behind its approach
to UX design, Christine Wong
• EthicalUX tackles strategy first, design second,
Patricia MacInnis
Table of contents
by Shane Schick,
Editor, CommerceLab
I always thought he would become an artist. As in,
someone who painted paintings that hung in galleries. Ivo was one of those kids who could seemingly
draw anything, and even in grade seven we were in
awe of his talent. I recently found out he had become,
instead, an architect, then a set designer for theatre
productions. These were roles that would never have
occurred to us as kids — kind of like someone turning
out to become a user experience (UX) designer today.
It could be a long time before parents, teachers and
friends are familiar enough with what a UX designer does before they start suggesting it as a career
opportunity, but they are all experiencing the impact
such professionals have. Just as UX has enlarged our
sense of what “design” is or could be, it is evolving
in tandem with the growing proliferation of mobile
technologies. As information becomes more digitized
it is also becoming more available, across a range of
devices and involving all kinds of transactions. The
smartest organizations are beginning to recognize
that those experiences need to be shaped, optimized
and measured so that customers and citizens get what
they need, when they need it, in the most positive and
engaging way possible. This eBook captures how that
movement is manifesting itself in Canada.
CommerceLab’s mission is to help get more of the
breakthrough ideas generated by innovative academics and entrepreneurs into real products, services
and companies. We’re doing that in many different
ways, but a big part of it is capturing the best practices in areas like UX design as they emerge, profiling
the leading lights in the profession and identifying
the opportunities and challenges that they face.
This eBook compiles some of the best writing we’ve
done on UX design so far, including coverage from
major industry events and conversations with UX
designers who talk candidly about the ups and downs
of their work. Our hope is that it starts a conversation
about what a UX designer in Canada can achieve, the
kinds of peer community that are developing, and the
kind of person more Canadian organizations should
consider hiring. I also hope it will broaden our perspective about the unique skill sets around UX so that
we can better educate and nurture UX talent. Canada
will ultimately need more intentional UX designers
than those who simply wind up in the role.
Of course, this eBook marks only the beginning
of this story. Look for our continued coverage of
UX design research and adoption every day on
CommerceLab. Join our audience by commenting
on our work or authoring a guest post. Share this
eBook widely with people who will capitalize on the
insights it offers. Doing any of these things will help
CommerceLab succeed, and for that you have our
seCTIon 1
drIvIng uX
What UX designers
need to understand
about their future
Fluxible 2013 featured a range of sessions that
showcased the way user experience roles will
evolve over the next 12 months and beyond
by Shane Schick
Trip O’Dell clearly didn’t plan on tearing up in front of his
fellow user experience designers. Unlike the approach to UX he
had been advocating, it just kind of happened.
O’Dell, who works at subsidiary Audible, was
addressing the Fluxible 2013 conference that took place last
year in Kitchener, Ont. He was talking about the power of UX to
reach audiences that aren’t often top of mind among designers
or their employers. Rather than describe them as “third world”
or “developing nations” he used terms like “high agency” and
“low agency” users to talk about the kind of education, access
and fluency with technology that characterizes certain groups.
For low-agency users, O’Dell said, getting a little emotional, UX
design should “empower them to do things they never thought
themselves capable of doing.”
Over the course of two days, O’Dell and other speakers at Fluxible delivered an even stronger message: that UX design needs
to be more adaptive than ever before, and that success lies with
increasingly careful consideration of who their audience really is.
For example, O’Dell noted that for much of the digital pro-
Audible’s Trip O’Dell
ducts and services offered today, the intended audience are
high-agency users who are educated, relatively wealthy and
The Imperatives Driving UX
owners of multiple devices. In contrast, the emerging wave
will be making their first connections on a mobile phone, with
lower levels of education and income.
“We are not the user,” he said. “Yet we are designing the first
products they are using on the Internet . . . What I know now
about how users behave, my heuristic expertise, is going to be
completely irrelevant in just a few years. How will this change
what we design?”
The answer is to keep a close eye on three forces, O’Dell suggested. These include demographics, education and culture.
For instance, while mobile UX design conversations often
centre around iOS or Android given their popularity in North
America, places like Africa, where mobile subscriptions are
growing quickly, may be more pre-disposed to platforms like
Windows 8. That’s because Microsoft’s mobile OS uses images
and “smart tiles” as alternatives to text to manage information
and a typeface that’s more easily localized, he said. Even the
hardware of the average smartphone could be better deployed
for a low-agency audience.
“The devices have more senses than we do — gestures, orientation, velocity, position,” he said. “They can contextualize
the relationships around them, their proximity to other things.
They can encourage and reward play and investigation.” UX
designers need to harness these features to ensure that literacy
isn’t an impediment to digital use but an opportunity for innovation, he added.
The principles of an ‘exceptional’ experience
Whether the user is high-agency or low, however, all UX designers should consider raising the bar to deliver experiences
that are not only effective but exceptional, said Diana Wiffin,
practice lead of the UX team at Quarry Integrated Communications.
The Imperatives Driving UX
UX Career
by Province
Current job
openings by province
Total: 1,395
Job openings in December, 2013
Source: Government of Canada
The Imperatives Driving UX
Wiffin defined an exceptional experience as one that begins
with relevance — design that clearly understands who the
audience is and what they want to accomplish. The next pillar is
“resonance,” or an experience that not only helps users achieve
something but connects with them on an emotional level so
that they enjoy it or would recommend it to a friend.
Perhaps equally critical is the concept of flow: users want a
seamless experience that ushers the customer from initial
Diana Wiffen
interaction to achievement of a goal without interruption. They
should be thinking, “It was familiar and matched how I thought
it would work,” Wiffen said, though she acknowledged some of
this was easier said than done.
“It’s not a pinch of Steve Jobs here and a bit of pixie dust
there,” she said. “You need to achieve a balance between the
three dimensions. Design for someone, not everyone.”
Around-the-clock UX
UX designers also need to recognize that they are almost always
going to be creating perpetual works in progress as opposed to
finished products, said Josh Seiden, managing partner at Neo’s
New York City office and the author of Lean UX: Applying
Lean Principles to Improve User Experience. Whereas software designers might once have approached their work like
engineers making a bridge — drafting out all the details before
the actual building began — they’re now often working on one
Josh Seiden, Neo
big, continuously evolving thing.
“Amazon now pushes new updates every 11.6 seconds. While
you press save and undo in Photoshop, Amazon pushes software live and pulls it back if it’s a problem,” he said. “We’re not
making discrete objects anymore.”
Although agile development and Lean were applied to
software development to try and speed up the rate at which
products change, Seiden said UX designers still need to build in
enough time to iterate thoughtfully and carefully. That means
The Imperatives Driving UX
testing early and often, while building in risk assumptions into
your planning. The nature of apps is helpful here compared to
the monolith programming projects of the past.
“In this new model, you have the opportunity to be nimble
because the batch size is so small that you can build it and then
figure out if it works,” he said. “In some cases, it’s kind of the
only model (you have).”
Seiden recommended UX designers, particularly those managing teams, differentiate between measurements that are relatively easy, like output (creating a new log-in page) vs those like
outcomes (does the log-in page drive increased registrations)
which are harder. The bottom line, he added, will ultimately
come down to impact (does the new login page make the
company more profitable?).
“The task of the manager is to find that measurable outcome
and task the team with that,” he said, while the manager should
focus on impact.
The speakers at Fluxible admitted that some elements will
always remain out of a UX designer’s control. Some of these
they are familiar with, like unrealistic client expectations or
insufficient budget. In the future, others may be more related to
infrastructure, like whether the intended audience has access
to electrical grids, basic government services, medicine and
clean water. O’Dell said it is critical UX designers keep these
things in perspective.
“We come with our own strong biases about what’s good and
bad, but we can’t change the world through topography and
clean, bright aesthetics,” he said, “What technology can do is
create the conditions where change is possible.”
The Imperatives Driving UX
The culture
UX designers
could create
How to shape and influence organizational culture
by Shane Schick
Bad bosses. Unreasonable clients. Lazy coworkers.
User experience designers contend with all of them
occasionally, but when your everyday environment
is made up of these elements, Teresa Brazen suggests
your organization has a culture problem.
At the recent Fluxible conference in KitchenerWaterloo, Brazen gave a talk entitled “Make culture,
not war,” in which she discussed both her own experience at Cooper, a design agency where she serves as
design education strategist, as well as principles and
ideas culled from a variety of other experts and firms.
She urged her peers to tackle cultural problems headon, rather than succumbing to the anger and frustration that the tough times can sometimes bring.
“Don’t let your culture hold you hostage,” she said.
“Every single person
needs to understand
how they connect to what
an organization is doing
in a way that gives them
“I’m not advocating for you guys to stick it out in the
culture that’s horrific, but all cultures get better when
people take responsibility for their impact.”
Some of the elements that Brazen said UXers need
to think about as they influence or help shape their
organizational culture included the following:
The Imperatives Driving UX
Every single person needs to understand how they
connect to what an organization is doing in a way
that gives them purpose, Brazen said. Unfortunately,
that’s where a lot of visions break down. She pointed
to Morningstar, a tomato processing company where
there are no managers, as a case study in how this
might work better. At Morningstar, each person has a
personal mission statement, where they capture in a
couple of sentences their part of pushing that vision
forward. “Do you and your colleagues understand
your connection to that bigger vision? Do you have
practices in place to help you stay connected to that
when you’re working on projects. Often times, by the
time we’re half-way through, we’ve forgotten.”
“We have an innate desire for ownership,” said
Brazon, making reference to Drive by Daniel Pink as
a great book that touches upon how a certain degree
of autonomy can fuel high-performance teams. One
idea is to allow employees greater leeway in getting
whatever tools they need to pursue their work, even
if it’s expensive.
The Imperatives Driving UX
Brazen has led or participated in “exploration workshops,” a dedicated time and place for team members
“How good a job are
you doing of cultivating
inspiration?” “If you are
not, there’s no way you’re
going to come up with
amazing ideas. You’ll end
up with lukewarm iterations of basic ideas you’ve
done before.”
to exercise some divergent thinking. Other ideas
included “15-minute Fridays,” to squeeze in at least a
little time for brainstorming.
“How good a job are you doing of cultivating inspiration?” she asked the Fluxible crowd. “If you are not,
there’s no way you’re going to come up with amazing
ideas. You’ll end up with lukewarm iterations of basic
ideas you’ve done before.”
Often neglected, this is about how well employees can
relate to others as human beings and not just as coworkers. A big part of getting this going is by making sure
people are somehow connected. At Cooper, everyone
gets together for lunch on Wednesdays, Brazen said.
In other firms where teams are spread out, they could
leave Skype on all day, “where (the other employees)
are a sort of ambient presence,” she said.
UX designers will get better at contributing to organizational culture if they treat it like a design project,
Brazen suggested. “This is where you get your ethnography hats on,” she said. Look inside at how conflict
is handled (and whether it’s resolved), take notes and
pictures that show how culture manifests itself. Then
The Imperatives Driving UX
look outside to successful firms that seem to have fostered a healthy culture.
“Think of it as a project to create a culture about
creating culture,” she said. “What would be possible if everybody that you work with really saw and
took responsibility for creating culture? Imagine the
amazing vision you could come up with collectively.”
The Imperatives Driving UX
From the
pros: How
UX works
Reframe user
experience challenges
as motivations:
Advice from IBM
by Kimberley Peter
and Adam Archer
User experience design practitioners face many challenges
in seeing the value of their work through to implementation.
It can be an overwhelming endeavor to effect the changes in
organizational process necessary to overcome these challenges. Recently, we ran a workshop called Advancing UX in Your
Organization at Fluxible 2013 in Kitchener, Ontario to start participants on a journey of identifying areas for potential change
in their own work environments and consider ways to make
that change happen.
Partnering to present the workshop, we drew from our unique
experiences as a UXD practitioner and a software engineer at
IBM to communicate the ways in which we have changed our
practices for the better and started our own journey to improve
the outcomes for the products we work on. The heart of our
challenges was the need for more cross-functional collaboration, for example, making collaborative design sessions a part
of our team’s weekly cadence in order to share goals, vision
and outcomes. The focus of the workshop, however, was not
about what we have done, but rather what the participants of
the workshop could do to improve their own situations and see
more success in getting their designs through. Our experiences served as a template to demonstrate how others can think
about their context and frame the challenges they face in a way
that inspires cultural change.
We started the journey of discovery by having participants
consider what might motivate them to take action. By reframing their challenges as motivations, the focus moves from a
From the pros: How UX works
list of obstacles to something more compelling and constructive
– something that might drive them enough to take ownership or
responsibility for improving in their environment. An example
of a motivation often experienced by designers in engineering
organizations is wasted time on design that does not see the
light of day. If this is a chronic problem, the designers might
be significantly motivated to find ways to improve the process
of what gets created and how it gets into development. Bret
Victor’s talk on Inventing on Principle is a wonderful inspiration for thinking of problems as motivations – indeed, he goes
even farther to suggest these might lead to “finding a guiding
principle for your work, something that is important and necessary and right, and using that to guide what you do.”
After considering motivations, the participants had the
opportunity to explore their work context, and how they individually operate within it, as a kind of map for identifying where
and with whom the motivating obstacles lie.
Finally, participants explored some possible solutions to
experiment with in addressing the challenges they encounter
in their respective work contexts.
After taking the participants through our experiences and
helping them reflect on their own motivations, contexts and
potential solutions, we left them with a few parting thoughts
to keep in mind as they work to drive improvements into their
Change takes time – a lot of time. It is not a matter of identifying problems and solving them overnight, but rather evolving
processes and practices – reflecting and adjusting over time.
Relationships matter – both bottom-up and top-down. In
order to get broad change in an organization, you need others
to get on board. Buy-in from peers can help show the value of a
new or revised approach, but support from leadership is how
to increase the possibility of significant, even viral, change.
From the pros: How UX works
Small changes keep you motivated. Or as said by Jason Fried
and David Heinemeier Hansson in their book Rework, “To keep
your momentum and motivation up, get in the habit of accomplishing small victories along the way.” It’s worth taking pause
regularly to consider those small victories.
If you would like to see the slides for the workshop, they are
available on slideshare. They include summaries of the
hands-on activities we covered, as well as highlights of our own
motivations, context and solutions.
From the pros: How UX works
want to bake in an
engaged user experience?
It’s a piece of cake
When baking a cake, one starts by identifying the context. Is
A good recipe makes for a good cake. The recipe selection
for a system should be based upon the context of the user.
From The pros: how UX works
Just like with a cake, the correct ingredients need to be combinedtocreateanengaginguserexperience.Shouldtheexperience contain personalization, location awareness, or social
network integration? What accessories should be included?
would not attempt to bake a cake for a wedding on a campfire.Thesameistrueforuserexperience.Userexperienceis
volume of information fast enough? What type of analytics
and built in iterations. Each iteration should include the followingsteps:design,build,validate,andadjust.Sincethegoal
From The pros: how UX works
At GE Capital - Americas, Tim Hundt leads a team responsible
for setting strategy and standards on mobility, web, APIs, personalization, and the rest of the latest buzzwords. He also helps
to transform the organization’s culture to one of innovation and
forward thinking. Being a dreamer with his head in the clouds
and his feet on the ground, he has delivered revolutionary software solutions for over 17 years.
From The pros: how UX works
What banking on a
mobile phone should
look (and feel) like
by Jon Cook
For most of us, there’s zero fun in dealing with financial issues,
and banks aren’t synonymous with the latest must-have mobile
apps. That, however, hasn’t stopped people from banking on
their mobile devices.
A recent BMO survey showed 70 percent of Canadian smartphone owners use banking apps. The trend is increasing too,
with two-thirds of users having downloaded a financial app
over the last 12 months.
Canadian financial institutions are notoriously conservative,
something that worked in their favour during the financial
crisis, but which has slowed the pace of innovation when it
comes to integrating mobile devices.
“The technology is still not mature,” says Robert Smythe, a
financial sector analyst at IDC Canada. “A lot of the decisions
they’re (banks) making are almost on hope and faith rather
than on solid information.”
Smythe adds that large retailers like Walmart, Canadian Tire
and Loblaws are making inroads into the financial services
industry and are working on their own “mobile wallets” to give
consumers a fully integrated experience.
“So we’ve got the banks now facing some new competition
they haven’t faced before and having to work very rapidly to
protect their domain.”
UX in action
ING Direct’s approach
ING Direct, recently rebranded as Tangerine, has been a leader
in the mobile banking space since launching in Canada in 1997.
With no physical branches, taking advantage of online and
smartphone technology has been at the core of the company’s
This summer ING Direct launched an app that allows
users to virtually cash a cheque by taking a picture of it with
the camera on their phone. Since late July, more than 70,000
cheques have been processed using the app, says Charaka
Kithulegoda, ING Direct Canada’s chief information officer.
The technology took about eight months to develop and a key
part of that was making sure it delivered a great user experience, Kithulegoda says.
“Simple and relevant are the keys,” but Kithulegoda confesses they recently tweaked the app, because about 10 percent of
the images were too “blurry” to process. “We missed a bit on
the usability part. We were losing image quality when people
pressed the button.”
The updated version allows users to hover their camera over
the cheque and the app automatically focuses and takes the
Charaka Kithulegoda,
ING Direct / Tangerine
picture. “The more human interactions you can take out – especially on a mobile platform – it’s going to remove the point of
friction, improve usability and increase engagement.”
Using your phone to deposit a cheque, pay your bills, transfer
money or check your account balance are all pretty mundane
tasks, but far more exciting things are on the horizon.
What the future holds
Banks are just scratching the surface with opportunities such
as near field communication (NFC), GPS, social media and the
huge data mining opportunity it represents. The big challenge
in all this is to maintain security thresholds so that users trust
the technology.
UX in action
“We are looking at biometrics very actively,” says Kithulegoda
on the science of identifying users by their biological characteristics or traits. “We can use the camera, voice and fingerprint
scanner on an iOS device to enhance the level of security.”
Using sites like Facebook and Twitter to sign into your
banking account provides a very tantalizing option for banks
eager to access that wealth of personal information.
Dominira Saul, director of user experience design for
Toronto-based Web services firm Akendi, often uses his smartphone to pay bills and says this practice will only increase as
online payment systems and apps become more sophisticated
and secure.
“There are potential linkages in terms of how service providers, consumers and banks interact with each other that
can really simplify the process,” says Saul, who believes that
as financial institutions improve the mobile user experience it
will transform the way people think about banking.
“It’s going to become one of those things we use without even
thinking about it, like e-mail,” he adds. “Everything is going to
be integrated through that hub that is the mobile device.”
UX in action
The UX design shift
mHealth is bringing to
Canadian patients
Shane Schick
Almost any of us can describe a bad experience we’ve had with
the Canadian health-care system: long wait times, indifferent
staff, questionable treatments. It’s doubtful many of us would
suggest the solution lies with smartphones and tablets.
Toronto, however, medical industry executives at the Mobile
Healthcare Summit gathered in early 2014 to discuss a variety
of projects in which apps and handheld devices are transforming the way doctors, nurses and other providers deliver care,
and the way they could empower patients to become more selfsufficient. If the potential of mHealth delivers as promised, it
opens up a considerable opportunity to completely rethink the
user experience of health.
For Dr. Ed Brown, CEO of the Ontario Telemedicine Network
(OTN), the big shift began not with the advent of tablet computers but the shift from in-patient to outpatient surgeries.
“In the 1990s, you would be admitted the day before, have
surgery and then hang around for a few days and go home,” he
said. “People realized we had the technology, we had the data,
and we started to move those people out of that model and into
Dr. Ed Brown, OTN
the community. Now they might go to a standalone cataract
clinic. Most surgery is now done in that way.”
That being said, the UX of most Canadian patients continues
to be an in-person affair. “Right now pretty much all the medicine we do in North America is bums in seats. The patient has to
show up,” he said. “What you are going to see is a dramatic and
exponential shift where most of our interaction will be virtual.
You’re not going to face the kid sneezing on you with the flu in
the waiting room.”
UX in action
Telemedicine: The beginnings of mHealth
Brown predicts that by 2019, 50 percent of the medical treatment we receive will come remotely. The OTN has been committed to making this happen for years, using videoconferencing
systems, for example, to connect patients in remote communities who would otherwise have difficulty getting to a doctor to
receive consultations through a monitor screen. OTN used to
achieve this through fairly heavy-duty hardware and software
but is now creating apps that will make it much easier.
An eConsult app, for instance, will streamline the information that gets sent from one provider to another. Brown used a
dermatology scenario to explain: A patient might show up with
a funny rash, but a doctor may need to get a second, third or
even fourth opinion before treatment is prescribed.
“You can snap a photo, add data from medical record and
submit it. It’s trending around three days to get a response,” he
said. Through more traditional methods, the same diagnostic
process can sometimes take six months otherwise.
Stats that show mHealth early success
UX designers and even everyday Canadians might worry that
telemedicine will make health-care delivery less personal, but
Brown has survey data of OTN patients that suggests the opposite is true. He said in one study, 92 percent were satisfied with
their telemedicine visit. “And if you asked the eight percent
who weren’t, they would often say it was because they didn’t
like their doctor,” he said. “People are really ready to do this.
Patients love it. The only missing link is the providers in the
middle — they’re not totally incorporated into the system.”
Of course, mHealth isn’t simply about providing access or connecting patients and providers through technology. It’s also a
matter of presenting information in ways that both parties can
easily understand what’s going on and collaborate on solutions.
UX in action
John Mattison, chief medical information officer and assistant
medical director of Kaiser Permanente in San Diego and the
conference chair, suggested the goal of improved health-care
UX is orchestrating what he called a “behavioural symphony
of wellness,” in which doctors, nurses, patients and even their
families are all working with the same information. This will
require particularly sophisticated ways to visualize medical
John Mattison,
Kaiser Permanente
data, he said, pointing to as an example of where
the field is headed.
“We’re not going to have one template,” that makes sense for
all situations he said, “We’ll need to personalize from the lens
of the patient, from the lens of the physician.” The extended
caregiver network, which could include family, friends or even
coworkers, is not to be ignored here, he added. In fact, Mattison
said the influence of our personal caregiver network is much
more powerful than our professional caregiver network.
Although the UX of mHealth is a true work in progress, Brown
said the growing willingness of doctors — a group known for
being slow to change — to embrace the mobile computing is a
positive sign.
“I used to chase them around trying to get them to use technology,” he said. “Now they’re chasing me around asking me
for stuff I can’t give them.”
UX in action
UX Career
What are the most in-demand technical
skills for UX designers in Canada?
1.Wire framing
2.Analytics research
3. User modelling (persona and scenario creation)
4. Front-end development (HTML/CSS/JS)
5.Paper prototyping
6.Stakeholder interviews/research
7.Sprint planning
8. Feature and task prioritization
9.Product design
10. Understanding Programming principles and technologies
What are the most desirable soft skills
for UX designers in Canada?
2.Analytical thinking
3.Clear communications (oral and written)
4.Visual and design thinking
7.Openness to critique
9. Drive to learn
10.Multidisciplinary experience
UX in action
Twitter’s UI changes:
Some user experience
by Danny Bradbury
One hundred and forty characters was once considered all
anyone needed, but shortly before its blockbuster IPO this
week, Twitter added a lot more elements to its service that raise
questions about generating revenue at the risk of alienating
The company recently announced that it would include previews of pictures and Vine videos directly in its users’ mobile
and web timelines. That may have made advertisers happy, but
not all users liked it.
“Have to say my Twitter feed is getting irritating with all the
full-sized photos, etc.,” tweeted Mathew Ingram of GigaOm
recently. “If I wanted a photo stream I would go to Instagram.”
How careful should start-ups be when making user interface
changes, and how can they avoid irritating too many people?
“Change isn’t free,” says Paul Hibbitts, a user experience consultant in Vancouver who works with enterprise clients. When
tech companies change their user interfaces, users have to
invest effort–however minimal–in relearning something. There
has to be a disproportionate benefit to make it worthwhile, he
Finding those benefits is key. “Hopefully, everything every
business does is in response to (user feedback),” says Shaun
Illingworth, managing director of Toronto-based user interface
design consultancy Akendi. “When you change an interface, just
like when you change a product line, you’re doing it because
of some kind of data point that you’ve perceived, whether it’s
good or bad, from the marketplace.”
But where does that data come from? Usability testing–where
UX in action
users are formally observed using the product — can be one
source. Other options include analytics, where user data from
real user sessions can be mined for insights.
This data can tell you how long it took to complete a particular task on the site, and how many people completed it at all,
for example, says prairie-based Blaine Bertsch, a usability consultant who has taught UI design at the University of Edmonton,
and who runs his own startup,
“You might find that people are using different features and
functions more than you thought, so your priority list changes,”
he says.
But in some cases, the benefit of a UI change may be to the
company, rather than the user. Advertiser-friendly moves are
a necessary part of a monetization platform for a firm which
badly needs to prove itself.
“It’s a delicate balance,” says Jesse Spink, creative director at
Vancouver-based Ayogo, which specializes in gamification software designed to improve patient compliance in the healthcare
market. Spink is constantly trying to bridge the gap between
the needs of users and commercial stakeholders in his products, and trying to serve both at once.
“Conflicts of interest start to arise when people are very
engaged and used to the software, like Twitter, but then the
business needs evolve,” he says. How much you consider user
needs depends in part on the company’s business model, too.
Twitter is free, after all. “If you provided this amazing product
(like) Twitter, and it’s augmented in new ways (by adding
images), then that’s the cost of gate admission,” argues Spink.
Where companies are persuaded to make interface changes,
they can at least do it gently, say experts. Twitter flipped the
switch on its content embedding without giving users an option.
Contrast that with Google, which offers people the chance to flip
between old and new interfaces for free services like Gmail,
which it kept in a long beta period, for a limited time.
“I like a preview period where we give users the option to
choose when they want to take an early peek at what we’ve got
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cooking,” says Hibbitts, He adds that companies should build in
a feedback mechanism, enabling users to easily communicate
their experience when they’re trialing a new interface element.
And explaining why changes have been made isn’t a bad idea
These pieces of advice are worth remembering, especially
when interfaces get so bogged down with changes over time
that they have to be ripped out and replaced, to reflect a new
information architecture or underlying business logic. As with
customer issues, the key for tech startups is to think like a user
— and to listen to what they’re telling you.
UX in action
Inside Dell’s approach to
the user experience of
PCs, laptops and more
Shane Schick
It was one of the companies that defined user experience in the
early days of e-commerce, but over the last several years Dell
has had to seriously rethink the way it approaches UX.
After a drawn-out fight with activist shareholder Carl Icahn
and others, Dell managed to win a vote that allowed it to
become a private company again. It’s a transition which intensified the spotlight at Dell World, its annual user conference
that took place in Austin in December 2013. There, several executives talked about how Dell was not only increasing its focus
on how to better design its hardware, but the entire process
by which customers choose, purchase and receive various products.
“One of the first things we did was de-segment the site,” said
Bobbi Dangerfield, vice-president of Dell’s commercial sales
operations. “ was built and defined more from a Dell
internal perspective. What we’ve learned is that for a lot of
customers, small and medium-sized business terms are simply
Instead, today is organized by simpler categories
Bobbi Dangerfield
based on how customers are likely to use their products, such
as “for work,” or “for home.”
Those design changes were only part of the process, however.
Dangerfield said equally important was a major retooling of
the training provided to its sales force. Almost a year ago, Dell
introduced what it calls Sales Academy, which takes its more
than 6,000 sales staff through a competency assessment that
evaluates not only their knowledge of technology but consultative sales skills and relationship-building skills. This was com-
UX in action
plemented by other internal programs, like one called Help A
Customer, which was designed to bring disparate employees
closer together to deal with order and fulfillment issues, among
other things.
“There’s nothing worse than a Dell employee going on an airplane and having someone hand them a business card, tell them about a problem and the employee not having a clue about how
to get them help about it at Dell,” she said.
Big ears, but not big effort
Dell employees like to talk about the company having “big
ears,” meaning it listens carefully to feedback, but what’s
critical is proving that you’re doing something in response,
said Doug Schmitt, Dell’s vice-president of customer support
and deployment. For example, Dell has introduced a number
of online troubleshooting tools that allow customers to selfdiagnose what’s going wrong with their PC or laptop. The firm
also has features that allow them to self-dispatch replacement
parts rather than waiting on technicians. While those can be
great capabilities, the UX needs to involve a minimum amount
of time and energy.
“You can have customers happy with the experience but they
still thought they put too much into it,” he said. “We need to
reduce it.”
Dell has launched a new offering in the commercial space
called Pro Support Plus, where large companies can see much
Doug Schmitt
more data about potential hardware and software problems.
This means big customers can be more proactive and prevent
issues before they arise, Schmitt said.
UX in action
The UX behind the hardware
Of course, the ideal UX metric for Dell is having fewer buying
or support problems in the first place, which is why Sam Burd,
vice-president of the personal computing business at Dell, jokes
that his team’s job is to put Dangerfield and Schmitt’s teams out
of business.
“Ninety percent of customers will never have a hardware
problem. The systems don’t break, they work for them,” he
said. Overall, the company’s reliability is 20 percent better than
Dell was five years ago, Burd claimed.
The UX rigour behind the design and testing of the hardware
is key, Burd added. Even before the first sketches are made, Dell
relies on a vast amount of first-hand observation and research
about what can go wrong with a device once it’s in a customer’s
“People tend to drop systems as they’re walking down the hall,
holding a cup of coffee. That’s why the maximum shock absorption is needed,” he said, which is why he described Dell as the
most extensive user of gorilla corning glass in the industry.
“When you scratch glass, that’s how you break glass. Gorilla
is 10 times more scratch-resistant. There’s not the kind of
fractures that will make it break.” He held a laptop by the top
corner to demonstrate.
Dell then puts its hardware through the paces. Keys are one of
the most extensively tested parts — Burd said keys on a laptop
may be pressed more than 10 million times, and more than one
million on a tablet’s touchpad.
As Dell continues to refine the various elements that have
an impact on user experience, from design to the processes
that get them into the market, being a private firm again will
provide much more focus, Burd said.
“All the time we used to spend with Wall Street, that’s going
back into customers and thinking about our business,” he said.
UX in action
Akendi explains the
ethnography behind its
approach to UX design
by Christine Wong
At first blush it seems like a case of Big Brother meets big data.
Imagine employees working away in their office. A camera is
poised above each computer screen, capturing every staffer’s
move and daily digital workflow. A researcher sits observing
the action, perched quietly at an adjoining desk – or maybe
hidden behind two-way mirrored glass. All the while, a staggering amount of data is collected from each computer and
crunched through analytics software. It goes on like this for a
month or two.
At the end, the researcher’s observations, videos and big
data metrics are melded to produce a user experience study.
It’s all been done to help the creators of The (Hopefully) Next
Big Software Program figure out whether their target users will
actually like – and thus buy – the product they’re developing.
This little composite scenario is one example of ethnographic
field research (EFR). It’s an immersive, observational way
of finding out what kind of experience a potential product
or service will generate for users – before it actually hits the
market. While traditional product trials and testing happen
after a product is released, EFR happens in the early development and design stage.
“It’s about a researcher going out in the field with a real end
user or customer and observing their behaviour or interaction,” says Shaun Illingworth, managing director at Akendi, a
five-year-old Toronto firm that uses EFR in its user experience
research, design and consulting business.
“Sometimes you’re talking to a disabled person about how
they go about their day. Sometimes you observe how people use
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a watercooler or interact with computer screens. It’s looking at
their environment and what they use and what’s around them,
trying to understand the pattern of use to get a new product
EFR isn’t just used by tech developers and designers. Right
alongside BlackBerry and Microsoft on Akendi’s client list is
the Department of National Defence and the Toronto Public
Library. And EFR itself is nothing new. Illingworth is, in fact, an
alumnus of the ethnography unit at the late Nortel Networks.
He says that although Nortel embraced EFR during the 1990s
in a bid to find its own Next Big Thing, the company ran out of
steam, customers and cash. Then the dotcom bubble burst and
overall investment in EFR dried up in the IT industry.
Now the tech sector is showing EFR all kinds of love (and
money) again. Akendi, which just opened an office in the UK,
has seen its overall business grow by 25 per cent each year
for the past five. Things are different with this wave of EFR in
tech, however. Chastened by the dotcom implosion that saw
too much money poured too hastily into unproven pitches, IT
is now investing in EFR again. Why? Well, it’s one way to show
there’s proof in the pudding before it even gets to the oven.
“At a lot of tech companies, their response was ‘Let’s just start
coding and users will follow.’ But in the technology space today,
that era is dead,” declares Illingworth. “First, understand your
users. And then start coding or manufacturing (the product) or
whatever the case may be.”
With the old ‘build-it-and-they-will-come approach’ falling
out of favour, EFR is seen as a way to remove some of the risk
and cost from product development. It’s not always an easy sell,
though; Illingworth says many new clients question whether
they need to spend money on EFR so early in the development
cycle. Politely reminding them that about 95 per cent of new
products fail within the first year, he then asks them if they can
afford “the cost of getting it wrong.”
Another factor boosting the latest EFR renaissance is the
emergence of new technologies that allow user data to be coll-
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ected, shared and analyzed: mobile, social media, wearable
devices and big data analytics. These can now be combined
with traditional EFR tools like observation, interviews and
user ‘shadowing.’ This mix adds a new quantitative, data-based
component to complement EFR’s qualitative strengths.
“Like with wearable technology… if I can get the ‘in the
moment’ information from consumers that they can only reinvent or recreate through (user) surveys, I might have a really
interesting feedback loop to help with product development,”
says Mike Gotta, a research vice-president at Gartner who’s
based in Somers, Connecticut.
In a January report, Gotta writes that EFR is still “in its infancy
in terms of enterprise acceptance.” Yet he forecasts that “design
ethnography (will) proliferate during the next three years” as
large IT firms embrace the marriage of traditional EFR methods
with newer data collection and analysis technologies.
In his report, Gotta even advises IT firms to bolster their EFR
efforts by hiring people with backgrounds in anthropology and
sociology. Just last year, Microsoft lured Canadian sociologist
Sam Ladner to Seattle where she’s now a senior user researcher in the company’s Office division.
Though Gotta is more gung ho than Illingworth on what
the new data-based technologies can bring to EFR, both are
adamant that ethnography will always require the participation of human beings – product users and field researchers – to
truly capture the intangible elements of user experience (what
Gotta refers to as a blend of “in-the-moment and emotion”).
Ethnographic field research, Gotta says, can’t rest on devicebased data alone.
“A lot of times the data will tell you what is happening,” he
says. “But not why.”
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Ethical UX tackles
strategy first, design
by Patricia MacInnis
When you speak to everyone, you risk being heard by no one.
That simple mantra drives the design process at EthicalUX, a
Squamish, BC-based digital strategy company.
Many companies make the mistake of launching Web sites or
digital campaigns without much thought as to how that content
flows or the overall picture it paints of their business, says Jesse
Korzan, Ethical UX’s partner and creative director. He says the
firm tries to be different from other agencies.
“We’re more transparent, more collaborative, and we work
with our clients to understand their business so we can become
invested advocates for it,” he says. “Especially with the way
things have changed with responsive design and the proliferation of mobile devices, we think there are a few ways – process,
technique or philosophy – that things should be done.”
Last year, True Collection hired EthicalUX to produce a traditional Web site for its exclusive travel boutique. During the
course of its consultation with the client, Korzan says they discovered that the company’s brand and business strategy were
outdated and not effectively serving its customers.
“It was apparent the direction they were going to take with
the site would be short-sighted and dated, so we recreated their
brand and their business strategy from scratch,” says Korzan.
“If we went with what they wanted (initially), we wouldn’t have
helped them (achieve) their business goals.”
The company also worked with Santa Cruz Bikes for the
launch of its new brand of mountain bikes – Juliana Bicycles
– designed for women, by women. They came to Ethical UX
looking for a digital brochure of the bike and its specifications,
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but Ethical UX’s Innovation Partner, David Olsson, had other
“They had a really great brand story, so we did a story design
model for the Web site,” Olsson explains. “You get the product
information you need, and you get the attitude and meaning
behind why they’re doing this. The interaction is a bit different.
It’s playful and delightful, and different from what the company
and its customers are used to.”
When Canadian comedian Shaun Majumder asked EthicalUX
to create a Web campaign to promote The Gathering, an annual
cultural festival he hosts in Newfoundland, Koran and his
partners admit they had a challenge. Working with a “skinny
budget,” Korzan and his partners created a site that diverts
from the normal navigation of tabs and pages, and instead features content presented in tiles – all on a single page.
“They didn’t have the money or the architecture for a content
publishing system,” says Olsson. “But they had a resource who
understood HTML, so we came up with this concept of tiles – a
feed-based pattern – that looks and works as great on a phone
as it does on the desktop, without compromising the tone of the
In many cases, clients approach the company looking for a
traditional Web site, says Korzan, but they don’t have a solid
understanding of what they want to accomplish with that tool.
At EthicalUX, clients are interviewed at length, giving the team
clear insight into their business and its goals. That’s what the
team believes will ensure its own long-term success.
“We want to understand why you’re excited about your business,” he says. “What motivates you to do it, who you’re selling
to, (and) how marketing is driving your numbers.”
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Author page
Shane Schick
Shane Schick is the editor of CommerceLab. A writer, editor
and speaker who helps people create value with information
technology. Shane is also a technology columnist with Yahoo
Canada, an editor-at-large with IT World Canada, the editor
of Allstream’s expertIP online community and the editor of
a U.S. magazine about mobile apps called FierceDeveloper.
Shane regularly speaks to CIOs and IT managers at events
across Canada about how they can contribute to organizational
success, and comments on technology trends as a guest on CBC,
BNN, CTV and other programs.
Kimberley Peter
Kimberley Peter is a user experience design lead at IBM. Kimberley guides the design practices of the Design Factory team,
a multidisciplinary team focused on leading user experience
outcomes for Rational Software solutions. She also leads the
design of Jazz, a technology and collaboration platform for software lifecycle integration that connects people to the tools, data
and others they care about in their work.
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adam archer
Adam Archer is a technical team lead at IBM working on the
JazzHub project, a cloud-hosted software development platform.Hespenttheearlyportionofhiscareerasawebapplication developer on the Jazz product line. Through ongoing
development and design and strives to tighten these gaps by
Tim hundt
danny Bradbury
proFILes In InnovaTIon
Jon Cook
Jon Cook is a new media veteran, having worked online since
1996. Jon has specialized in startups, having cut his teeth as an
editor/reporter at for 12 years. He has also worked at
Reuters and
Christine Wong
Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered
a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff
writer with, she has also worked as a reporter for
the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV
and the CBC.
Patricia MacInnis
Patricia MacInnis is a freelance writer based on the east coast
of Canada. She has been the editor of Computing Canada, Technology in Government and written for many technology publications.
profiles in innovation
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