#MuC15: “What exactly is a UX manager?”

Today at Mensch & Computer 2015 conference, Ulf Schubert and I held a panel on the topic of “What exactly is a UX manager?”. I’ve been interested in that topic ever since I started managing UXers, about two years ago, and have been looking for ways to improve my skills at UX management, looking at various programs but not quite finding the one I wanted to go with. So when the Call for Papers for the MuC15 conference went out, I realized this was the best opportunity to get the discussion started – in the German-speaking countries (there’s been a lively discussion on the international stage anyway, e.g. Brandon Schauer, Margaret Stewart).

When Henning Brau, Ulf Schubert and I started talking about the format of the session, we quickly realized there were at least two definitions of “UX Manager” (obviously, I’m more interested in Type 1 UX Managers):

Type 1: UX Manager as Creative Director or UX Lead: Person responsible for a product or product area, leading the UX team:

  • UX Lead (leadership in terms of direction and creation)
  • People manager

Type 2: UX Manager as Change manager: Person within a product area or the company responsible for the topic of “UX”, leading and shaping the topic, often without personnel responsibility. Also known as “Design Czar”, “Chief Design Officer”, “Design Executive Officer”.

This morning, we had a lovely group of about 20 participants with a variety of backgrounds and occupations, ranging from students to people in various UX roles to quite a few UX managers from all industries. From our group of attendants, about 1/3 considered themselves a Type 1 manager, about 2/3 Type 2.

After quickly going over Brandon Schauer’s characteristics of a UX manager, we started with position statements:

  • Mitch: Big challenge in how to properly lead a team while also trying to still contribute meaningfully to the product’s design
  • Ulf: In the long run, UX Managers of Type 2 will become extinct as they fulfill their jobs.

We then engaged in a Fishbowl-style discussion with various participants taking active roles in the conversation with topics covering:

  • Organizational structures in various enterprises
  • How roles change over time
  • Whether or not Type 2 managers will become extinct (may have to do with the Corporate Maturity Scale: Nielsen, HFI
  • How to split your time between leading the team and creating strategy (and whether or not that would be a great point in time to insert another layer underneath you)
  • How to become a UX Manager

Overall, a most satisfactory session – I quite enjoyed the conversations and the energy in the room. A big Thank You to all the participants and my Co-Chair Ulf (and Henning, who couldn’t make it today)!

What exactly is a UX manager?

Just stumbled across a (slightly older, 2012) article by Brandon Schauer at Adaptive Path on “Just What is a UX Manager?” – really good analysis and also very insightful comments. Been having a somewhat challenging journey myself defining the line between a senior-level individual contributor and a product’s UX lead. Brandon has some great points around UX Managers:
– Balancing the outside with the inside
– Not doing it themselves, not the work nor the solutions
– Being translators
– Measuring
– Nurturing a team
– Making tradeoffs

He also provides an outlook:
– UX Managers’ heads will explode
– We’ll have to partner more closely with new peers
– We’ll need to define experience strategies
– We’ll have to master even more
– We’ll have to scale up teams

I’m loving the challenge, and I’m happy I’m not alone on this journey.

Coverage for WUD 2010 in Zürich

Last Wednesday I gave a talk on "UX as the 'project glue' in product development projects" at the Zürich World Usability Day 2010 to an audience of approx. 120 people! My central statement was: Usability Professionals are in a unique position to becoming the "project glue" within product development processes because two layers we operate on: our deliverables serve as a focus point for business requirements and technical implementation, and our methods help structure internal communciation within the team as well as drive user-centered innovation. The talk was very well received – got lots of great questions afterwards, and there are a couple really nice comments on Twitter and in the blogosphere as well. Here are some pictures (thanks to @swissupa)

Sweet spot 

Focus point

Also would like to link to the great illustrations the talented artist Roland Stahel was doing while listening to our talks. Take a look at his photostream on Flickr!

More great stuff at this World Usability Day event:

  • Clive van Heerden (Philips) showed some fascinating "design probes"
  • Sibylle Peuker (Zeix) spoke about innovative communication and showcased a couple of examples from her previous work at Swisscom Innovation and her new endeavors at Zeix AG
  • Patrick Grässle (KnowGravity) told us about quality assurance in requirements engineering
  • Rinaldo Dieziger (Supertext) held a very engaging presentation on the power of the word and how to write good copy
  • Sascha Weisshaupt (Swisscom) elaborated on branding and re-creating a brand

Overall, this was a fantastic event with a very engaged audience and great presentations. Thanks a lot to the organizers and sponsors!

Talk at Zürich WUD 2010: “UX as ‘project glue'”


I'll give a talk on the role of "UX as 'project glue' in product development" at the World Usability Day in Zürich on Wednesday, Nov 10, 2010 (in German). I'll cover how UX contributes critically to the project's success through process and structure and through deliverables.

Please follow this link to sign up for this year's Zürich WUD: http://www.usabilityday.ch/anmelden

Looking forward to seeing you guys there!

SwissCHI event Apr 30, 09: “Prototyping of Rich Internet Applications”

Last Thursday I attended the monthly SwissCHI meeting. That evening's topic was "Prototyping of Rich Internet Applications" – Andreas Binggeli, Marc Blume and Yuan-Yuan Sun presented their Master's thesis (from their MASHCID studies). Interestingly, but not surprisingly, paper prototypes compared really well to more elaborate prototypes done in Axure RP Pro or realized using Ajax-y technology, and users didn't really pay much attention to the paper prototypes lower fidelity. (I wrote up a piece on which prototyping tool to use in which case earlier.)

After a brief introduction into what RIAs are (or rather, aren't: "RIA ≠ Ajax ≠ Web2.0"), Andreas, Marc and Yuan-Yuan presented their study. The following hypothesis were to be tested:

  • Between different forms of prototypes, there would only be differences in speed and visual appearance
  • There wouldn't be differences in user hesitation, difficulties, slowing-down, quality of interaction etc.

They'd be asking subjects to form an overall assessment of visual appearance, behavior, and speed.

The four prototype variants they were testing were:

  • hand-drawn paper prototype
  • Powerpoint-created paper prototype
  • Pseudo-HTML prototype created in Axure RP pro
  • Ajax prototype

These were their findings:

  • Both the hand-drawn and the PowerPoint-created paper prototypes were experienced as (too) slow; a lot of preparation on the researcher's side and high concentration were needed
  • Axure-powered prototypes used interaction elements that looked alright but didn't live up to their expectations
  • The Ajax-based prototype was quite slow in some parts, which lead to some immediate reactions not being perceived by the subjects, whereas some elements' affordance wasn't perceived properly
  • Interestingly, subjects didn't really see differences in the visual appearances of the prototypes
  • All methods can be used to prototype RIAs, but all have their very specific weaknesses
  • Interaction quality is compromised most severely by unexpected behavior, not so much by visual appearance or speed
  • The appropriate method should be chosen based on the phase the project is in, the Ajax pattern to be simulated, and the desired longevity of the prototype

In the end, if you take the effort into consideration, paper prototypes might still be the most appropriate method in most cases. This finding really doesn't come as a big surprise…

SwissCHI event Mar 26, 09: “Interaction Design Patterns in the Real World”

On March 26, 09, the monthly SwissCHI event focused on "Interaction Design Patters in the real world". A panel of six experts plus an advocatus diaboli came together to exchange opinions and experiences on design patterns, but it quickly became clear that they weren't talking about the same thing at all: They were arguing on very different levels of abstraction, from controls to actual design patterns.

An initial definition of an interaction design pattern reads:

  • A proven solution to
  • A recurring problem
  • in a defined context

Participants in the discussion were:

  • Marcel Brunschwiler, UBS AG
  • Christian Hübscher, Zürcher Kantonalbank
  • Bernhard von Allmen, Roche Diagnostic
  • Thomas Kneubühl, MAS HCID
  • Stefan Schallenberger, eGovernment Kanton Aargau
  • Frank Leidermann, Swisscom AG
  • Daniel Felix had the role of the Advocatus Diaboli
  • Christian Hauri moderated the session

Marcel Brunschwiler, UBS AG, opened the session. UBS is using design patterns as "aid to self-aid" for better UI design (and to free up resources in the usability team for more challenging tasks). They don't really have interaction designers at UBS; instead Business Analysts are defining everything. There used to be a style guide that also defined how certain elements were to be applied.  UBS AG's pattern effort started with a big document. Later they switched to an HTML-based tool that featured a description of the pattern, its application, and related patterns. Future releases will incorporate best practice examples. The pattern library has already been in use for some time. Christian Hübscher, ZKB, seconded Marcel's description – at ZKB, too, Business Analysts describe the GUIs. They usually don't have any background in HCI. Currently, their pattern library is limited to one application. This app is based on an organically grown piece of standard software (which, by now, shows a huge degree of inconsistencies). They have been building up their pattern library within the context of a redesign project. They're using a Wiki. The Business Analysts aren't using it for their daily work yet, though. This shall be changed in the course of the introduction of a new spec process, in which specs will be linked to the library. They're also building the library into their prototyping tools. From the ZKB's point of view, the pattern library needs to be well-structured and needs to be available electronically.

Daniel Felix jumped in as the advocatus diaboli and pulled out a number of style guides, asking: What's new about this actually? He said all the pattern stuff has been there before, even linking all the elements can be found in earlier style guides. This at least triggered a longer discussion on the question whether controls and patterns are the same, which showed clearly that most of the audience wasn't quite sure about or familiar with the concept either. In the end, it was mentioned that the big difference is that a pattern library should always go from the problem to the solution, while a style guide usually starts with the solution and then describes where to apply them. Bernhard von Allem, Roche, told us of how they started out to define a style guide and later realized they had actually defined patterns, as they had started from the problems. For him, a spec contains information on colors, fonts etc., stuff that doesn't belong in a pattern definition. He pointed out that patterns were "management compatible" – they are easy to "sell" to management.

Stefan Schallenberger, eGovernment Kanton Aargau and MASHCID student, related that they had derived their patterns from requirements and paper prototypes. For him, it's important that a pattern library isn't just a collection of stuff, but needs to be accessible (they're using an HTML tool). He said patterns limit the solution space and help to achieve consistency. At Kanton Aargau, the project has been a success: they're planning on redesigning 80 internal apps. Thomas Kneubühl, Postfinance and also MASHCID student, told us about his project "Patternfinder", which looks at why patterns aren't used more heavily and how to make them more accessible. He found 1400 pattern descriptions in 40-50 libraries, which could imply a high level of redundancy. Interviews within their internal development department revealed that patterns were completely unknown. They were looking at involving the future users of the library more, e.g. by having them create their categorization scheme themselves, using tags etc.

Finally Frank Leidermann, Swisscom, spoke about the customer center application, and organically grown, very inconsistent app. They put together a pattern library that abstracted heavily from the actual UI and relies on, among other things, inheritance. It partially contains controls or styles, partially flow diagrams.

The subsequent discussion focused on the following points:

  • Patterns are very interesting for HCI experts, needs to be defined by HCI experts and made available; the target audience, though, isn't usually HCI experts. No-one needs to be afraid that a pattern library could turn everybody into an HCI expert (and render us out of work). It does allow HCI experts to focus on the really interesting issues, though
  • A pattern library should never be released without proper training, and their usage implies common sense. Engineers were looking for solutions to copy anyway
  • Patterns aren't the same as guidelines. There should be one solution per problem that a company should agree on
  • Pattern Languages are valid within a given domain and move within certain forces, e.g. what's feasible technically
  • Do patterns need to be updated? Should we collect older versions? Are patterns that need to be updated patterns at all? Aren't pattern technology-agnostic?

As for the future of design patterns ("what's going on with patterns in ten years' time?"), the panelists saw these options:

  • Patterns will be tied into design tools and IDEs
  • Pattern libraries and guidelines will live side-by-side
  • The hype will have died down
  • Those who understand them will use them; those who don't will ignore them

World Usability Day 2008!

World Usability Day 2008

 It's World Usability Day today, and the UPA asks you to take the Global Transport Challenge to 

  • Measure your everyday transportation usage
  • Monitor your personal carbon travel footprint and compare
    yourself to others around the world
  • Minimize your energy usage through alternative transportation choices, carbon offsets, and simple travel changes thereby maximizing the impact on our world.

Go visit the WUD 2008 page and take the challenge today!

Best Session Award for our Tutorial on Form Usability

At this year's "Vielmehr" conference (what was formerly known as "Mensch & Computer") in Lübeck, Germany[GP:luebeck], my colleage Iris Niedermann and I presented a paper and a tutorial. The paper (called "Usability Professionals – a role playing game") was targeted at young professionals and experienced people looking for a change of jobs; the tutorial (called "Form Usability for dummies") covered the basics of form usability and design and included a long team exercise redesigning a couple of difficult forms. Even if we had hoped to win the Best Session Award, guess how surprised and delighted we were to learn we had actually won it for our tutorial!

The prize for the award was the German version of Jim Kalbach's book on Web Navigation 🙂 Now I've got it in both languages. When I met Jim a couple of days later, he found that funny too. 

Presentation of the results of the exercise

Again, at this Vielmehr conference, I wasn't intrigued to attend any of the "Mensch & Computer" sessions and focused exclusively on the Usability Professionals track, which doesn't really come as a surprise. 

“Mensch und Computer” conference, Lübeck, September 7-10, 2008

"Mensch & Computer" is the biggest usability-focused conference in the German-speaking sphere. Over the last couple of years, it used to feature a "UPA Track" to take into account not only academics' needs, but also practioners' specific questions and wishes. This year, the overarching motto is "Viel Mehr" ("much more"), and it encompasses the Mensch & Computer, DelFi, Cognitive Design, and Usability Professionals conferences! It will take place in Lübeck, Germany, from September 7-10, 08.

My esteemed colleague, Iris Niedermann from soultank AG, and I will be giving one tutorial on form usability (UP T6) and one paper on roles in the usability job universe (UP V6), as you can see in the conference program. Come look our shop!