65 episodes

"The user experience is a metric." Now brief high-level practical design thinking by Michael Schofield. Previously a bunch of fun episodes with Tim Broadwater and Amanda Goodman.

metric.substack.com

Metric UX: Brief Insights about Design Work Michael Schofield

    • Technology

"The user experience is a metric." Now brief high-level practical design thinking by Michael Schofield. Previously a bunch of fun episodes with Tim Broadwater and Amanda Goodman.

metric.substack.com

    Gutenberg doesn't disrupt WordPress

    Gutenberg doesn't disrupt WordPress

    Gutenberg 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 window

    Clay 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 Christensen

    The 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 par

    • 11 min
    UX Design is Morally Gray

    UX Design is Morally Gray

    Folks 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 on the email list at metric.substack.com

    • 2 min
    Can jobs-to-be-done replace "Front End Developer"?

    Can jobs-to-be-done replace "Front End Developer"?

    The “front end” is pretty nebulous. What makes a good front end developer? Its definitions, and so its answers, are all over the place. It’s not just the introduction of new front end frameworks that have changed how we talk about it, but in terms of the discipline of designing websites we have begun to think differently: in components, in services. We can see front end in flux in Ernie Hsiung’s “A fictitious, somewhat farcical conversation between me and the JavaScript programming language,” where Ernie as a front end developer — a successful front ender, look at his resume — imagines having an existential crisis because the front end changed while he was busy being a boss (a good one).

    Our understanding of the front end as a place no longer holds up to scrutiny. We cannot define it by a specific suite of tools, a kind of user expertise, or even that — if anything — front end development requires a browser.

    If we talk about the front end in terms of distance from a user, the “front” specifically being the interface between the user and the service provided, then we ought to accept that voice user interfaces (among other examples) challenge the notion that the front end has any tangible component at all.

    Even here, we are cherry-picking a particular kind of user, one that is at the tail-end of a complex service provision - presumably outside the “provision” circle of the Venn Diagram altogether. We’ll call this person “end user.” But again, using “front end” as a descriptor of that distance from a user — while accepting there are no constraints on technology or medium (like a browser) — should be applicable to the RESTful API that I design for consumption by a variety of user interfaces. The consumer is my end user. When I design the interface for that user, am I performing “front end development?”

    What I am trying to illustrate is that when we are thinking about user experience and service design, paradigms like “front end” and “back end” no longer align with an understanding of service clusters, ecosystems, or - frankly - users. These kind of identifiers are ephemeral and, as such, pose a problem to companies who organize themselves around these concepts.

    You long time Metric readers and listeners — “Metricians?” — might find this latter concern familiar. The practice of thinking in services reveals that same ephemeral nature around the product itself, given that the product is just a tool in a larger service provision, it is thus — like a tool — replaceable. Choosing to design organizations around products will shape the way in which said organizations develop, which is probably against the grain of good service design. Hot take, I know.

    So, practically, as service providers who make products that require engineers, how do we hire after we thought-spiral ourselves away from terms like “front end developer?”

    I think there is an implied solution. In 2017, Rob Schade at Strategyn suggested a new kind of role called the “Job Manager” in “Product Managers are Obsolete; focus on the Job-to-be-Done.” As an alternative to a Product Manager, the Job Manager focused on the design and development of solutions for a given job-to-be-done.

    If you need a refresher, a job-to-be-done describes a task where the user has a demonstrable need for the solution you provide. That is, if I need talk shop and further develop my own thinking about service design, a company like Substack provides a solution for my shop-talking need. The product — the newsletter editor and mailer that Substack provides — is a means to an end, not the end, and not necessarily crucial to my job to be done.

    In this example, rather than there being a Product Manager in charge of the newsletter editor, there would be a Job Manager overseeing the entire service Substack provides

    • 6 min
    The Temporal Midpoint of the Sprint

    The Temporal Midpoint of the Sprint

    The 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 tha

    • 4 min
    The Service Reactor

    The Service Reactor

    We 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 i

    • 4 min
    Spark Joy

    Spark Joy

    In 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 on the email list at metric.substack.com

    • 33 min

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