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Is Digital Engagement living up to it’s hype?


Digital engagement is a huge trend right now and for companies that get it right there are massive rewards & gains to be made. A lot of companies have successfully implemented new systems and tools to create a more engaged and productive workforce as well as driving innovation.  The case studies are impressive and centred around positive outcomes that make it sound easy to achieve, and they are…sort of.

A far greater amount of companies have tried to put in a tool and failed to get the results.

Measuring success first

A figure I read put the failure rate at 80% for solutions that didn’t deliver the promised results. A bit of red flag when most companies in that survey did not even have a clear understanding of what their measurement criteria should have been. They were reading what others had a achieved and thinking a straight implementation would yield the same.

The result was disillusionment and a waste of budget as well as resources. Users abandonment of the new system and going back to the old ways of working with little or no progress created a reluctance to try again.  Reasons for the failure were multiple and interdependent; problems poorly understood (not investigated), too quick to roll out a solution, not enough insight, lack of preparation, lack of research, not understanding the roles and issues of the people who will be using the tools and no clear KPIs. The criteria must be set out at the very beginning before a proposed solution is even introduced.

Engagement rules

The clue is in the name. Engagement. These have to be engaging. What is engaging is some what subjective. You cannot lift and shift what worked in one organization into another. Because the problem may be similar wrong assumptions about company culture and readiness may render it useless. How you engage and motivate staff is more important than the tools. But there are ideas and learnings that can be explored.

If you don’t know what is causing the problem you cannot create a solution

The first step is to understand the underlying problems within the organization. Sometimes an outside perspective is good. Employees may be more ‘open to tell the truth’ about what is wrong if they know what they say cannot be held against them. The structure of the company and the way people work and interact as well as culture, attitudes and mindsets all need to be considered first and foremost.

Company culture matters

Every organisation has it’s own culture and issues to resolve.  Only once the problem is understood can you start to envision the solution. The solution needs to have a set of criteria in place that it will deliver on. Having a kick off workshop with the stakeholders to drive out and prioritize the criteria will get everyone working together and understanding the trade offs.  A mix of insight and  analytics for setting the creative against a number of themes such as: adoption, time management, response speed, innovation, cost reduction and out put for a breakdown of predictable and achievable metrics.

You cannot fool people for very long.

Humans cannot be fooled for very long with a few sparkly gimmicks. People may think it looks cool at first and even in initial testing proclaim, “this is great I will use this all the time”.  But then something happens. The novelty wears off and the decline of usage starts. I’ve head it said (as an argument against the research), “oh but the client likes it”. Sure the client likes it now but will they still like it in a year when the results start coming in. Better to have those difficult conversations now and get the model right.

Competition is not team work

Studies show that pitting people against each other with leader boards and levels will not work over time. After the initial thrill of competition it becomes negative and off putting. Those people without as much time to devote to it drop off and find them penalized. Some personality types who don’t like competition and/or losing will think it is better to stay out of it. Newer users see that they will never catch up and quickly disengage. Teams become more secretive instead of more collaborative if they see others profiting from their ideas but nothing coming back. Incentives cannot be competitive over longer periods of time. Occasional contests can be good but they need to be quick and fair. An element of digital engagement could be to remove red tape and level the playing field.

The right solution for the right situation

The right solution is end result. Selecting the right model of digital engagement for the organization and situation is key. It is not a solution looking for a problem.Take the time to the work first to understand the problem and explore different options. Start small and choose a problem to focus on and create a tailored solution that fits. Understand the users and their needs. A number of solutions can be added and delivered over time and integrated together to create smoother working practices and bring different parts of the organization together. The success measures at the beginning would identify which ones to focus on first and create a type of road map but this doesn’t mean that this won’t change and other ones make take priority.

Digital engagement projects need to be handled by a User Experience professional who understands how to create, test and measure effective web / mobile solutions. A good place for further information on the types of digital engagement projects available and case studies is Digital Engagement Org.



Gorilla User Experience (UX) Using Axure

Experiments in attention and concentration show that when people are concentrating on something and doing a task they often miss other information.  This has big implications for UX design as well as collecting the requirements and running workshops.

Suppose you are running a workshop for a new retail site and you have a group of stakeholders in the room each with their own agenda. It is important to sketch out the end to end scenario first as a walking skeleton. This is so that everybody understands it as a single process.

This is often the situation where a product manager may have an objective of people browsing their products and hitting “add to basket”. For them that is where the journey ends. The shopping basket (funnel) is some else’s problem. But it is not. Statistics will show that it is the payment screen that is the most abandoned. Rarely do you see a product manager care about that.

Most UX people probably know the 200 lb invisible gorilla experiment. When people are concentrating on doing a task a 200 lb gorilla can literally disappear.

What it demonstrates is that people complete the task despite it. This also works in reverse.  Axure is my gorilla. I have used it workshops and have “live” mocked stuff up. The first part of the workshop I explain what I am going to do and how it works and what will happen at the end. It may seem strange to some people at first but as things get going no one pays attention to me they are all focused on the screen and completing their tasks as well.

The sessions still contain all the usual white boarding, post it sessions, sketching and open discussions. What I do is make sure that everything is captured so that nothing is lost. I do this by having some prep work done beforehand to allow me work in real time and turn the outputs into a clickable journey. The tarting up can be done later. After the workshop.

Generally 20-30% of all information from workshops is lost. Those photos of the post it notes boards are often missing key bits of detail. The flip chart scrawlings sometimes need a translator and are open to interpretation. Participants leave unclear whether the output was good or not until they see it later. By then their memories are subject to their view.

By capturing the information in the room I can play it back at the end. People can immediately see what was accomplished and reach conscientious on the value of workshop. Plus I will still have the original photos of all the boards and post it notes to add to the deck and show the process of getting there.

Just in case you do not know the Invisible Gorilla story, read more on


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Is Gamification Just The Latest Buzzword?

Anybody old enough to have had a Palm Pilot in  2002, will remember buzzword bingo. Oh what fun it was to sit in meetings and wait for some hapless person to use the buzzwords of the day. Who cannot forget the dreadfulness of leverage, spearheading, running up a flagpole and so many toe curling others.

But gamification is different. These is more substance behind it. There is the pleasure principal: “People do things that are pleasurable and they avoid things they hate”. It is basic human nature. Addictive games such as Angry Birds plus popular items such as Facebook and the iPad have significantly raised user expectations.

The iPad is a huge game changer. No waiting time to boot up. No annoying start up menus.  A user can turn it on and check for recent messages in seconds. Users want immediately reactive technology. On these devices it is easier to check stats, look for updates, track progress and complete a lot of task based activities.

There is no trickery behind this and no need for more jargon, just basic principals:

  • Making something pleasurable to use
  • Focus on quick delivery in task based activities, (the workflow should be transparent)
  • Use design to make things engaging
  • Keep information light
  • Clever usage of  visual metaphors, icons and data visualisation
  • Incorporate social media behaviour –
  • Incentivise and give the user feedback
  • Make even boring tasks fun
  • Provide feedback – dashboards – performance charts
  • Compare people – engage users in a friendly sense of competition
  • Use rich interfaces while maintaining usability and accessibility standards
  • Consider HTML 5 or develop different interfaces for multiple devices


When Gartner starts talking about Gamification, you know that it cannot be ignored.

Unfortunaly it  may be only a matter of time before we start seeing, “I spearheaded the gamification initiative”, on CVs. Oh my.

Gamification experts are not needed. Like Social Media this a trend towards creating better experiences and meeting the evolving needs of users. It is not an isolated skill. Everyone can benefit from understanding the thinking behind it and blending  it in their every day work. For those of us who already have a game design background we are already there.

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Prototyping to Add Value

Prototypes must deliver value. It is the thinking that is the valuable part not the overall execution or the tool.

Too often discussions get bogged in down in discussions about what is the best tool to use. The tool used for prototyping is just a canvas. A good painting doesn’t take longer to produce than a bad painting.  It is the thinking that goes into it. Not how it is done.

Prototypes are visionary and need to capture the art of the possible.

Rapid Design Visualisation  is emergent. The solution will emerge over time, evolving to fulfil new requirements and take advantage of newer technologies and methods as appropriate.  Some initial modelling is done at the very beginning of a project during “iteration 0”.  This can be part of a white boarding or brainstorming stage.  This will be just enough to visualise ‘the concept’ to stimulate discussions and provide a talking point. This gives everyone on the team more clarity and less room to misinterpret as you can see it, touch and play with it. It is interactive and mimics the behaviour of the final solution.

Prototypes maybe needed at any point in the project life-cycle. They end when it is “Good Enough For Now”.

Creating a prototype  version of  ‘the vision of the future’ may help get funding or a project kicked off.  Later it may evolve into a final GUI design with pixel perfect artifacts and a working model for the actual code base.  At every stage there are artifacts that can be used or reiterated. If it is custom software that is created then any new icons may need to be created  pixel perfect in order to validate usability, for example.

It could start out as one thing and evolve into something else. Prototypes designed in Axure or iRise can be canabilised and re-used. The prototype itself could be kept and used for training or modelling the next generation of the systems features.

 Modelled a little bit ahead and what it necessary. 

Don’t need to model what you know will already work. It is not about making a full scale working model.

If you are designing a car around a new engine to improve performance you wouldn’t want to wast time discussing whether the wheels should still be round. Just say there will be wheels and leave it at that.

Maybe just what it will look like (static model). Maybe not at all. Maybe it is just one problem you want to model so you can asses and test various options. Coding multiple solutions is impractical.




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Philosophies, Strategies and Value Creation

There is a lot of debate whether consumerism has gone too far. The distribution of wealth is to the super, super,  rich. The high street has been decimated and taken over by chain shops and restaurants. These continually buy each other out until it is in the hands of super companies. In the book The New Capitalist Manifesto, Wallmart was referred to as “the Deathstar of companies”. It was reviled and held up as being responsible for killing town centres and turning the locals from merchants to into employees. Stealing their independence and producing more low paid shelf stacker and cashier McJobs. An enslavement to produce higher profits that benefit a few already wealthy shareholders.

Activists fought a desperate battle to keep this greed monster away from their towns.

Wallmart is responding and tying to paint itself as helpful for delivering cheaper goods and promoting their newly acquired green credentials.

People are turning off and tuning out of advertising. To build a brand and develop a communication plan now there needs to be a philosophy. The message can no longer be solely strategic – sell, sell sell and mindless consumerism. The web makes everything more of a leveler. A user can click on negative feedback about a company two clicks away. Here niche brands can thrive as well.

Users now expect a better user experience on the web. A lot of people (myself included) now post complaints directly into Twitter and are getting a rapid response. This is becoming the first choice as users are learning they can avoid having to spend a painfully long time on the telephone trying to get hold of a real person.

Because user experience is so pervasive, developing a good user experience depends on blurring the boundaries of the web page. The user experience now has impacts on how the business sees itself. This in turn could have a positive impact for how companies need to behave if they are going to survive long term. Facebook with all of their privacy issues may pay a huge price when the next social rival site comes along and says to users “we respect you and you can own your content”.

Google has a philosophy that is driven by their principals

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.


Umair Haque is a provocative writer and thinker, who does not believe that government is the answer. He still believes in capitalism and believes we are the answer. I quote from his book The New Capitalist Manifesto.

Constructive capitalists have an advantage in the kind of value they are able to create, not just its amount. Because higher quality value is less risky, less costly, more defensible, and more enduring, it is usually worth more to stakeholders of every kind: people, communities, society, future generations, employees, regulators, and investors alike.

I am putting this into practice and working with our clients to help them develop both a philosophy (what are the principals) and a strategy (how to implement, drive value & positive behaviour). What I offer them is a constructive advantage for the future. That is a valuable proposition.

It is also blurring the boundaries of the traditional User Experience from being “Tactical” to being “Grand Strategic”.


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UX and the Agile Process

One of the questions asked is how UX fits into an Agile Methodology and the simple answer is that it does not automatically slot in. That is because Agile is not a design methodology, it is for development. It is not more useful for UX than it is a process for doing business strategy.


How do you make room for innovation in a factory.

The Agile process clashes with the UX method to create the user experience before construction begins. To the Agile community this can sound like “Big Design Up Front (BDUF).

Jakob Nielsen suggests that the problem has its roots in the fact that Agile was conceived of by programmers as a way of improving the development process. He has said

“mainly addresses the implementation side of system development. As a result, it often overlooks interaction design and usability, which are left to happen as a side effect of the coding.”

Agile and UX can work together with the right planning

The values of working the Agile way:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The values of Agile are not too dissimilar to UX. UX is fairly a collaborative approach with end uses and stakeholders to visually capture the requirements by producing mock-ups. The end result is usually a key screen prototype with design style guides. The principal is that these are are both lightweight and easily refined as new ideas are introduced.

There is significant differentiation between small incremental projects and large-scale web or software development projects.

UX and Agile in small incremental projects

In small incremental projects a lean UX can work by having smaller UCD orientated cycles a sprint ahead of build or in some cases working with each other to solve nitty problems. These would be aligned to the work stack with a planning meeting at the beginning of each sprint to align the teams.

UX and Agile in larger complex projects

In a larger more complex projects there needs to be a lot more planning with the UX and it is essential the conceptual design is done up front. Conceptual models are not iterative yet they under pin the entire user experience in order to support the mental models of the users.

The gap between what the solution delivers and what end users expect can have catastrophic consequences on a business or brand. The team there for has a duty to ensure they fully understand the needs of the business as well end users so that the end solution is not compromised.

Creating engaging and innovative user experiences requires creativity. We need to allow for creative sessions and thinking so that ideas can be generated to support the brand proposition. Using a divergent and convergent process gives the conceptual phase of design focus and structure.


Managing the divergence and convergence when  to find solutions as well ensuring there is a resolution. The conceptual design phase broken into 3 steps.

Trying to capture a complete, accurate and exhaustive list of requirements is impossible. This almost never creates a usable and desirable solution. Without a prototype or model to view people find it difficult to imaging the outcome in order to evaluate the solution. This requires several iterations to get the degree of fidelity and definition.

You cannot refactor the UI as easily as you refactor code. When you change the UI you are changing the way people interact with the program, and you need to think about the impact the changes will have. It’s easy to create confusion, annoyance, and what psychologists call proactive interference (the prior experience with the UI making it hard for the user to learn a new way of doing things). All in all, making UI changes after release is generally unadvisable, so it pays to get the conceptual design right at the beginning. – Dr. Charles B. Kreitzberg

UX Conceptual Design Process

Click to view full steps

Not having a conceptual design up front is a big risk. The end result may be a poor user experience that requires a complete rethink of the user interface after launch. This may also impact how the system functions as the processes may need to be re-engineered and additional functionality to be implemented in order to create a more holistic user experience. In a consumer facing web environment the  impact to users by having a poor product may adversely effect their perception of the brand and have a determental knock on effect to the business.

The good news is that the UX process of  using as UCD methodology is not a full recipe where all the steps must be followed. Not all UX tasks need to be done. It depends on the project and putting the outcome first. It is about getting enough of an understanding to make a start and then continuing to plan, analyse and design.

To avoid the trap of BDUF it is important in the planning to agree the level of what will be delivered in the first “cut” of the detailed design. This should be the key pages of the system and over all structure. Each area can be further broken into chunks by functional themes. On that should be avoided is a page by page approach as this can create inconsistencies as tasks get split.

Using the user stories and creating a map is very similar to the walking skeleton used by Agile. However it is more visual can be used as a base line as well.

An advantage of having a conceptual UX design up front is that with the UX/Design specifications  they can be given to offshore build teams or multiple and less expensive resources for production.  These detailed design can then be done in smaller light weight sprints and concurrently if required. Ideally they could still be working to a sprint ahead.

The trick to making UX and Agile work is to focus on the individuals and interactions and not the process.

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Mental Notes for User Experience

Came across these Mental Notes, from Stephen Anderson, and thought they might be great for workshops. On occasion I still find there is a lack of common understanding of what UX or user experience is.

These notes look like a great way to offer a fun teaser as a warm up excercise. I am interested to know if other people are using these and what results you have had.