Oh, scrolling

WarnerBrosIn the beginning of movies and TV, scrolling was horizontal. Remember those old cartoons with the same chunk of background showing up over and over? The advent of screens, word processors, software, apps, and so on gave us vertical scrolling on our desktops and in our hands.

In the beginning of the web, vertical scrolling was bad.  Getting everything on a screen (page) to fit ‘above the fold*’ was one of the biggest priorities. C-suite guys grabbed onto the buzz. Some swooped in to reject designs, others made sure their marketing folks knew not to let anything scroll lest they piss off the boss.

What if the screens/pages were long enough to end up ‘below the fold’? The best practice was to add some way for the user to navigate back to the top of the page/screen.

Fast forward to today and what do our devices show us on their various screens? Endless scrolling. Intentional infinite scrolling.

So now what? Remember the olden days, if it scrolls down, help users get back up again.

*Ahem, wikipedia, help a sister out and add some ‘back-to-top’ links.

What makes you think?

When people would ask me what I do, or how they could get into or learn more about user experience design, I would always recommend they read Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think. I still do.

The other thing I would tell them was to simply look at the cover of Donald Norman’s book The Design of Everyday Things and think about it. That teapot still gives a lot of people an “ah ha” moment. (This is not a plant or pitch for either Norman or Krug though I’d be pleased if either made a sale because of little old me.)

What does make you think?

I’ve been considering the converse, what does make people think? Not in the sense of solving usability problems or creating good experiences. I’m interested in where ideas hatch. Where does inspiration come from? When do ideas happen? What makes people (you, me) think?

When I ask, the most frequent response is “I get the best ideas (or remember things) when I’m in the shower” which is often true for me, too. The other piece of feedback from my not-at-all-scientific study is that music often plays a big part in the thinking process.

guitarWhether it’s wallpaper music, listening in the car, singing along, dancing around or playing an instrument.

Also interesting, the number of people I’ve met who are geeky and technology curious also play instruments. Myself included.

There has been a lot of real research done on the topic of giving the brain a break. Tons of proof that it’s tremendously healthy. I think we all need to pay attention to what sparks new ideas or rounds out an existing one. When do we remember that fleeting idea that wasn’t written down during that long conference call?

Take a break. Maybe a nap. Or work somewhere other than your usual space. Try a standing desk. How about a walk around the block or a stroll through the office? Take a shower (call it hydrotherapy). Visit a new website. Dig in a garden. Play a guitar (I keep one in my office).

See what happens.

From digital to drive through

I’ve been an independent user experience (UX) consultant for well over 18 months after spending a few years with a large consulting firm, primarily as a digital producer.

I’m between gigs and in the process, I’ve gone back to asking myself what user experience means to me. Why do I really want to keep doing this work?


The Economist Intelligence Unit Report: Creating a seamless retail customer experience

With so much emphasis on the digital, the design, the deliverables, the development, the technology, it can be hard for me to stay engaged because there are so many elements beyond the screens that go into creating an experience that actual users – people – will happily engage with and better yet, share with others because of how positive it was.

Call it omni- or multi- or cross-channel seamlessness, it’s where I thrive.

Unicorns and squirrels, generalists or specialists

I used to consider myself a purple squirrel or unicorn (depending on which coast you’re on) but that was when I did what I call cross-over or hybrid work (user experience design + visual design or UX + coding, you get the gist). The work I really enjoy, the work I’m best at, is when I can be a generalist versus specializing in the technical aspects of creating an experience.

“You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” Steve Jobs

Generalists and specialists and unicorns

Yes, I have built up a specialization in the digital aspects of UX, as opposed to, say, industrial design or front end/user interface (UI) development, but I think beyond technology and the digital realm. Call it design thinking or holistic or persuasive design or customer advocacy. Others have written about the topic of unicorns, generalists and UX overall. It’s not without controversy and opinions and it’s a long-standing conversation in the UX world.

For me, when I acknowledge the work I’ve done as a generalist, I can reunite with the reasons why I’m still toting my UX soapbox. I go back to recognizing that UX is everything. Is there technology involved? Of course. But that’s not what makes the entirety of a (hopefully good) user experience.

digital to drive through

We, humans of earth, have a lot of experiences. Big, small. Day in and day out. It’s pretty constant. From the kitchen to the car to an office or a store or a beach. What makes – or breaks – those experiences?

This is where my mind wanders to the CVS drive through. The store in addition to the digital properties. The whole aspect of the CVS pharmacy experience. Why? Because of a pen. And a clipboard.

I use the CVS pharmacy site and iOS app for prescription management. Based on my experience, things work pretty smoothly. The website and app. The auto-refill services, reminders and alerts via text message. The pick up at the drive through where the employees are nice and do a good job. It’s all pretty good.

Right up until the end of the transaction when it rains on my good experience parade.

When the employee working the window hands over a clipboard with something for me to sign, a random pen held on by a gross rubber-band-bungee dangles from the old school metal clip part and my heart sinks. Ok, I’m not exactly crestfallen but I don’t like it.

It’s not something most people notice – but I do and I know it matters. CVS folks may say, ‘eh, it’s just a pen’ but it matters.

The pen clouds all of the other aspects of the experience with the CVS pharmacy. Whether it’s conscious or not, people absorb the details that break a good experience down to a ‘just ok’ experience. When I say people, I am referring to anyone who comes into contact with the experience. Customers, employees, leaders, etc.

bottom line: Me and UX

I’ll continue to do what I do, whether it’s in the capacity of a UX specialist cranking out heuristic evaluations, wireframes, prototypes, content maps, KPI’s, sketches, personas, architecture maps or user flows.

Or, when given the opportunity, as a generalist who has a lot more fun and can add a lot more value because that’s when I can connect to users in the most tangible ways to give them – the people – the best interaction possible with an organization, brand, product or service.

Isn’t that the goal? That smooth continuum of experience. Maybe my next stop will be to find someone at CVS who wants to make the pen fade seamlessly into the customer experience.

Down the rabbit hole


Poster found in Santorini, Greece.

Ever find yourself looking for something online only to end up somewhere you didn’t expect to be? Of course. It happens all the time.

  • The unfortunate: sometimes we never accomplish what we set out to do.
  • The interesting: we may stumble upon entertaining or intriguing things we probably wouldn’t have encountered before.

For those of us who create digital experiences, we have to make sure we’re not creating rabbit holes. Remember the task you want people to complete or the message you need to convey. Don’t send users off in a bunch of unnecessary directions. Add and craft content mindfully. Don’t forget to avoid common mistakes in the design process.

Reminds me of a line from the movie The Birdcage: Don’t add! Just subtract!

Stay focused. Keep people out of the rabbit hole and they’ll think more highly of your brand.

What do you do?

Once again, Jakob Nielsen has given us a gift. That of explanation. Building on the decades of work he, Don Norman and others have engaged in, he gives us insight into what the “it” is when it comes to User Experience Design. If you read no further, the summary of User Experience Careers is great and the complete, free report is even better.

It’s the question some people love and others cannot stand. If you are a CEO, a Marketing or IT Director, the founder of an organization, a stay-at-home parent, a teacher or a software developer, it’s pretty easy for folks you meet to understand what you do when they inevitably ask: “So, what do you do?”.


Sean McCabe’s beautiful lettering.

As a user experience (UX) professional, if I answer it straight up, “I’m a user experience professional” (I have avoided the term designer for a while now) most of the time, I get a blank-ish stare or a nod of semi-understanding.

It’s no one’s fault. Explaining it quickly is part of my job. I’ve borrowed and distilled from others along the way which is one of the skills a lot of us working in the area of UX have to have. Not stealing, constantly learning.

Good experience is a lot like electricity. You notice it most when it’s not there. And even when it’s not there, you’re not likely to be wondering which part of the intricate system failed. You just want it to work for you.

A great UX pro is often in the background. When someone says they’re a user experience designer, think of flipping on the lights in your kitchen.

Posted in UX

Listen Up Email Marketers

If you’re a marketer, you’re working harder than ever to capture and retain customers. Do yourself and your company a favor. Let your customers easily unsubscribe from your marketing emails. The doesn’t only apply to the unsubscription process or page you may have in place.

The most important part is to stop the messages from getting to your customers inbox as quickly as possible once they’ve asked you to do so.

EmailIt’s possible you use a third party to manage your email marketing processes so there may be some lag in updating databases. That’s ok. Most folks are somewhat patient. They will understand if your unsubscribe page says they may have to wait a couple of days for the change to be put into place.

If this is the case, you have to follow through with that promise. If you don’t, you run several risks. Here are a few:

  1. Losing the customer. They may boycott your stores and online services completely.
  2. Having the user – when they continue to receive your messages after they’ve unsubscribed – flag your email as spam. You don’t want to get blacklisted.
  3. Kicking off a flurry of negativity in social media and elsewhere.

Bad experiences are things customers share with one an other more readily than positive experiences. You don’t want this kind of marketing tactic to erode the brand you worked hard to create and maintain.

This type of disregard for user requests and preferences does have a negative impact, even if it is one the customer registers at a subconscious level.

Don’t wait to face this type of issue. Stay true to the promises you make or you may find retaining your customer base more challenging than ever. Do everything possible to elevate your brand which includes responding to customers as their needs change.

Don’t blame IT

How many times have you heard (or said it yourself) “it’s IT’s fault”, “the IT department is a black hole”, “what were they thinking?”, “why is this system so bad?”. Don’t be so quick to point the finger at the technical side of things. Look more closely and what you’ll find – more often than not – is that usability was left out of the planning equation.

During implementations, the technology folks did the best they could with what they had. After a system is put into use. they focus on keeping things running.

Some of the worst offenders can be found on government sites, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) implementations and, in my experience, healthcare-oriented systems. In almost all cases, these complicated systems were either home grown or pulled out of a box without deep, user-centered consideration.

Unfortunately, because EHRs often require complex technical integration, design and usability are often an afterthought and fail to incorporate a robust user-centered design process or full scale usability testing.*

In the age of electronic healthcare record (EHR) keeping, the systems are incredibly intricate. What happens when UX is left off of the planning table? The whole experience tends to suffer the consequences.

I’m not just zeroing in on healthcare.

I recently encountered the online properties managed by the Massachusetts Labor and Workforce Development. They’re horrendous. Finding various sites is difficult, at best, and using the recently implemented UI Online site is no picnic. The overall functionality even allows users to do things that the system should not enable because it’s not aligned with how things are supposed to be done.

The UX space needs a much bigger platform to change this trend. Or one big ole law suit.

Does your organization include a C-level focus on user experience? If not, you probably want to reconsider how all of your stakeholders are impacted. Because when it’s bad, it’s wicked bad. Thank you Laura Marcial for articulating this so well for the healthcare arena.

Don’t blame IT.

*Marcial, L. (2014). Usability in Healthcare: A ‘Wicked’ Problem. User Experience Magazine, 14(3).
Retrieved from http://uxpamagazine.org/usability-in-healthcare/

Posted in UX