I sketchnoted some of my travel during a recent trip to Luxembourg and Switzerland with my wife. This was the first time I had done it after being inspired by Eva-Lotta Chen’s amazing travel sketchnotes she had drawn during her trip around the world. After sketching four days of my trip, I’m hooked! Here’s why.
Sketching my experiences makes them more vividly memorable
I remember the moments that I sketched much more vividly than those that I only photographed. Much of my photography involves passive capturing of scenes and objects. Sketchnoting however forced me to think harder about not just what I saw but also what I smelled, touched and felt and articulate those memories on paper. Looking back at my sketchnotes, I realised that the moments I photographed were not necessarily the moments I remembered the most.
Sketchnoting is more fun than just writing
I’ve tried keeping a travel journal in the past but I always found it difficult to motivate myself to write, especially after a tiring day of exploring. Sketching doesn’t feel like work. It feels like doodling, but with a purpose. In fact, it felt therapeutic. Also, it’s a lot more fun to look back at sketchnotes than written journals and you can share them with friends, family and even strangers. If you’re sketching on a plane, train or a coffee shop, people try to take a sneak peek while you’re sketching and it can be a great conversation starter!
Sketchnoting doesn’t take any longer than keeping a traditional travel journal
I found that I could sketch a day’s experiences in around 20-30 minutes. The first one probably took the longest because I had to think longer to decide which bits of the day to sketch. But after a couple of sketches, the pattern started to flow better. The things I’m sketching are still a bit random but I’m experimenting with different ways to tell the story.
If you’re even a tiny bit interested, give it a go. If you’re not sure, just start by drawing a stick figure next to your notes. Anyone can draw a stick figure!
A design is not an experience
Reducing fidelity helps amplify specific details
Good design is an extension of the the user
Good design becomes an extension of the user and moves in unison with the user to help them reach their goals. Bad design, however, sticks out like a sore appendage and hinders the user’s journey towards their goals. When we are designing products, we not just designing for experiences, but also for identities.
UX design can happen at any abstraction level
Take advantage of closure performed by users
Context is important
Go beyond the shiny surface
You will be judged
I am naive and I like to think all of you are too.
Four years ago, I joined Toastmasters. Not because I had a specific goal in mind. I didn’t want to be a professional speaker. I didn’t feel the need to speak in public at all. I joined Toastmasters because I was naive. According to the dictionary, the word ’naive’ means ‘showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgement’. That’s exactly what I was.
In hindsight, being naive made me more curious, more open to trying out new things. I ask myself now, if I was experienced, wise and full of good judgement, would I still have joined Toastmasters? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t have felt the need to. Why do you do anything in life? To get something we don’t have – whether it’s knowledge, money or happiness. But if we already have everything, then why would we bother looking for anything?
Galileo was naive enough to think that the earth is not the centre of the universe. Martin Luther King was naive enough to think that little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. Bill Gates was naive enough to imagine a computer in every home. Now we have a computer in every pocket.
Here are my top tips to be naive:
- Have an open mind
- Don’t be quick to assume
- You’ll never never know if you never never go
When was the last time you did something for the first time? If you can’t remember, maybe it’s time for you to be naive again.
Transcript from my presentation at IxDA Sydney meetup 23 January 2014:
Have you ever learned a new skill and found out that you’ve also learnt something totally unrelated to that skill? This is what happened to me as I started learning the style of Kung fu called Wing Chun last year. It’s a style invented by a woman in China around 300 years ago. So it was designed for people of smaller stature, like me. One of the most famous proponents of Wing Chun is Bruce Lee who was also around the same height as me but still kicked arse. Our commonality probably stops there though. Anyway, I’ve learned 4 principles so far during my kung fu training that I feel are also key to good UX design.
Everything strong starts with a good foundation and a sound structure. In Wing Chun, you start with a stance called the sheep shearing stance to build and maintain that sound structure. It’s called a sheep shearing stance because it looks like you’ve got a sheep between your legs. In Wing Chun, everything comes from a good structure and biomechanics. The stronger your structure, the more force you can generate more efficiently. If your structure is weak, doesn’t matter how strong you are, much of your force will be wasted.
Why is a good foundation and structure important in UX? Without a sound process and methodology, it is difficult to come up with good designs, unless you fluke it, of course. That’s why knowledge of design processes, frameworks and principles are so important, especially if you’re starting out in UX. Matthew Magain from UXMastery, in his very cool sketch note video titled ‘What the #$%@ is UX Design?‘, mentions that UX has a low barrier of entry. But that doesn’t mean that you can just dive in without knowing at least knowing how to tread the water. You’ll probably have to get rescued or risk drowning. Try arguing for a design decision just based on opinions and you’ll know what I mean. And unfortunately, this happens a lot in a lot of organisations.
Wing Chun kung fu has something unique to its system and it’s called the centreline theory. What’s the shortest distance between any two points? The shortest distance between your fist and the opponent’s face is also a straight line. So most attacks in Wing Chun are performed in a straight line towards your opponent’s centre.
Most users and customers also look for the shortest path between their need and their goal. Directness in UX helps your design convey the message faster and helps your customer get to there goal faster. When you’re writing copy for your website, remember, you’re not writing a suspense novel, unless you actually post your suspense novels on your site. When you’re designing a checkout workflow, remember, you’re not designing a crossword puzzle for the customer to solve. Your customer is not on your website to start up a relationship with you. They just want to get shit done and get the hell outta there. Directness is vital.
Economy of movement
Who’s watched a kung fu movie here? What’s one of the first things you notice in kung fu movies, besides hot chicks who can fight. One of the first things you notice is how exaggerated and theatrical all those movements are. In every martial arts movie, you see these martial artists performing all kinds of acrobatic movements and taking their bodies through all sorts of contortions. It would probably be cool if you can do all that but most of us mortals have trouble getting off the couch, let alone do a Van Damme split, especially if you’re wearing skinny jeans. Wing Chun kung fu practitioners are a bit lazier. We like to preserve our energy as much as possible and hence don’t do any fancy moves such as roundhouse kicks or flying kicks. Why do a ridiculous roundhouse kick when you can just kick them in the balls?
This is where the concept of lean UX comes in. Why waste time, energy and money writing that big fat user testing report when no one’s going to read it anyways? Why bother designing all those detailed screens if they’re not going to get you the clicks and the conversions?
One of the key skills you need to learn in Wing Chun is sensitivity. Sensitivity doesn’t mean looking like this guy. It means being sensitive to your opponent, their movement, their intention and the direction of their force without pre-empting them. Wing Chun practitioners spend hours and hours building up their sensitivity by practicing something called Chi Sau which literally translates to sticky hands. In close range, your hands are always in contact with your opponent’s so that you can read their movements and respond accordingly.
This level of sensitivity requires you to be relaxed. Every Wing Chun teacher will tell you, the more relaxed you are, the more force you can generate, which is completely opposite to what we’ve been made to believe as we grow up. You need to be harder, better, faster, stronger! Not according to this guy (Charles Darwin).
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
You need to be more adaptable, adapting and changing to your environments. Adaptability comes from being able to sense changes in the environment and respond.
In your UX career too, you will face a lots of constantly changing external forces – user needs, business needs, technical constraints, budget cuts, organisational restructures and the list goes on. You don’t have to be the smartest designer around to deal with those forces, you just have to be sensitive and adaptable. Yes, you have your foundation, your knowledge and your experience but if you can’t change with the needs of your industry, your employer or your users, you will make life more difficult for yourself. This reminds me of one of Bruce Lee’s famous quotes:
When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. Water can drip and it can crash. Be water, my friend.
So there you go ladies and gentleman, those are the 4 principles from Wing Chun kung fu that you can apply to your own UX careers and kick some arse.
Does our responsibility as designers end when our designs get shipped? Or are we responsible for how the products and services we design get used and what long-term consequences they have?
One of the first things they taught us at interaction design school was that we need to make our designs more engaging for our users. It made sense back then. After all, if you want to be successful as an interaction designer, you have to design products that users would want to engage with, more than once. We’re certainly doing a good job as our users are spending more time engaging with the products we are designing.
The consequences of engaging designs are not always positive. A new YouTube video succinctly tells a story of a gadget-less girl in a world of people glued to their phones. It tells a story that a lot of us can relate to.
Closer to home, at the UX Australia conference this year, I walked down to the hotel lobby only to find all my UX colleagues engaging with their phones and not each other. They just happened to be checking something on the phone at the same time, but it’s not an uncommon sight nowadays.
A quick Google search for ‘responsible design’ generated more results about ‘responsive design’. OK, so your website can fit into different devices. Boo frickety hoo.
The Great UX Debate at Interaction13 touched on the subject of responsible design but the general conclusion was that we humans (including designers) do not have the capacity to predict the consequences of our actions. That kind of thinking seems like helpless fatalism. As a designer, I feel disconcerted to be told that I don’t have control over whether my designs will make the world better or worse. Watch the entire debate session below if you’re interested.
I was told design is all about solving problems. But what if our designs are solving one problem but creating another? IDEO designer, Nathan Waterhouse, asks whether human-centred design is too centred on the needs of just humans and disregards the needs of anything non-human. My question is whether all this user-centredness is actually good for the user in the long run? Or is it an inevitable part of evolution that mankind was destined to go through? One of my favourite UX Australia talks ever, the Design Anthropologist’s Mindset by Design Researcher, Stephen Cox made us think how and whether the designs we create enhance what it means to be human. Or whether they are turning humans into lazy blobs depicted in the sci-fi movie Wall-E.
Yes, users have the ultimate responsibility of making choices for themselves but as designers, if we want to make the world a better place, shouldn’t we be thinking a bit more about how we can help users make those better choices? Maybe our apps can make themselves less engaging and difficult to use when our user should instead be having a meaningful conversation with their partner. Maybe, just maybe.
Here’re the top 3 insights from Day 2 which follows the top 3 insights from Day 1.
- People create their own meanings in places within physical and digital navigational meshes.
- Place is a way to understand the world. Intent and meaning is more important than geometry.
- The web is a map that leads to somewhere real.
- Traditional methods (such as personality tests) of categorising people into cubicles is flawed.
- The VIEW model developed by the Center for Creative Learning looks at relative scales of problem solving styles instead.
- We lie somewhere in the following scales: Internal vs. External, Explorer vs. Developer, Person-oriented vs. Task-oriented.
- There are 2 types of gesture: pointing and semantic.
- A combination of the two is preferred by most.
- Use both universally common gestures and customised culture-specific gestures.
- Design decisions based on just intuition are not going to cut it anymore. We need evidence backed by data.
- Data is not about proving yourself right or wrong.
- Data is not automatically useful.
- 10 steps to designing surveys that get unbiased, valid and reliable data: 1. Decide if the survey is the right method 2. Objectives 3. Sampling 4. Questions 5. Avoiding biases 6. Visual design 7. Evaluation 8. Building 9. Fielding 10. Analysis.
- People answer more honestly if the survey is anonymous.
- People cannot predict the future. Ask about shortcomings, not wish lists.
- Call it ‘critique’, not ‘design review’.
- Have smaller pre-meetings before the big meeting.
- To help people hear better, start with divergent thinking followed by convergent thinking.
- To help people see better, use graphic facilitation (visual note taking).
- To help people do better, present and design ideas collaboratively. For example, for each section on the homepage, collectively answer who needs it and what they will do with it.
- Identify crevasses in your product experience and minimise them.
- If you don’t design it, someone else will.
- People have lives beyond the screen. Try to observe and understand their lives.
Conference recap by Steve Baty
- Small details are important.
- We are the humanising force. Understand people. Bring them in the design. Work with them.
- Lines between digital and physical spaces are getting blurred more and more.
Here’s a highly synthesised version of the amazing talks I attended on Day 1 of UX Australia 2013.
Microinteractions: Designing with details by Dan Saffer
- Design is not about solving wicked problems.
- A microinteraction does one task well.
- Product experience is only as good as its smallest experience. Create signature moments!
Our billion-dollar baby: From greed to good by Chris Paton
- Gambling can be designed for the good of the world.
- Slow down to go faster.
- Get a good scrum-master!
How to run an effective Cultural Probe on your UX project by Matt Morphett and Rob McLellan
- Look at the longitudinal view of the user’s day.
- Brief all your participants together and look them in the eye while doing it.
- Provide an example entry in the diary to encourage expression of honest feelings.
Usability and the art of gentle persuasion at Justice by John Murphy and Gavin Hince
- Find your REAL audience.
- Provide guidance for the lost. Demystify.
- Bring lots of “conceptual glue”!
Winning proportions and frictionless navigation by Jon Deragon
- Navigation has a lot of baggage.
- Disproportionate navigation creates severe frustrations.
- Always ask: what have we adopted from the past and how is it applicable?
Universal design for touch by Katja Forbes
- Sometimes, reinventing the wheel can change the world!
- Respect our elders when designing solutions, otherwise they won’t use your product.
- In text-to-speech, directive language sounds bossy. E.g. ‘Delete the event’ vs. ‘Deletes the event’
Two models of design-led innovation by Steve Baty
- Insight-led innovation and hypothesis-led innovation
- A 1-week rapid iteration includes: hypothesis > sprint > working prototype > test hypothesis.
- Use a time-lapse camera at a cafe to watch people. Get insights from their behaviours.
- POPS (Privately Owned Public Space) are TOPS!
- Agile ethnography = Traditional ethnography + Agile methods. Don’t think too hard. Just f*cking do it!
- Everyone in your team is a researcher. Agile = adjust your expectations accordingly.