Perspectives

My UX Journey: How a Course on Human-Computer Interaction Turned Me Into a Lifelong UX Advocate

June 12, 2020 By: Guest Author

This guest post is part of our Continuous Product Design (CPD) Evangelist series.

In this post, Markell Williams shares how a career in UX found him and why he believes Continuous Product Design is a natural extension of Human-Computer Interaction. Markell is a Usability Lead / Sr. UX Designer on the Product Team at Liquidity Services, where he conducts usability testing, develops intuitive solutions to optimize the buyer and seller experience, and support initiatives to implement and validate marketplace marketing strategies and user experience solutions.

I’ve been a UX professional for over 13 years. My time in this field has been enlightening, enriching, and rewarding in a number of ways. If I’m completely honest, UX was something that chose me. 

My UX Journey 

As far as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated with how products, services, and other solutions were created. What steps were taken to move from ideation to launch? Who was the intended audience? If the product, service, or solution failed its audience or didn’t quite meet expectations, I wondered how could the experience be improved? And then I would start brainstorming recommendations to improve the experience myself. At the time I didn’t know that it was UX or that this could remotely be related to Human Factors or Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). 

That all changed when I took my first Human Factors / HCI course at RIT. My eyes were opened to new possibilities. I was hooked. I affectionately call HCI the playground where the social sciences (anthropology, psychology, sociology) and technology meet. 

I went on to take a number of undergraduate and grad-level HCI courses touching on everything from interface design and usability testing to pervasive and ubiquitous computing and user centered design methodologies. It set the stage for what I would eventually do in my career. I’m currently a Usability Lead / Sr. UX Designer on the Product Team at Liquidity Services. Liquidity Services employs innovative ecommerce marketplace solutions to manage, value, and sell inventory and surplus equipment.

Missing the Mark? 

No matter what we were researching or developing, the focus always went back to users… the very people we were designing for. If we couldn’t reach them, if we couldn’t connect with them, if we were unable to help them achieve their goals, then we missed the mark. 

But if we’re employing user centered design methods, collaborating across teams throughout the project lifecycle, testing early and often, using data to inspire or support our decision making, and designing iteratively, can’t this be avoided? Well, it depends. (Yes, I know—it’s a UX professional’s most beloved answer.)

Alignment and Collaboration Between Stakeholders and Teams  

For any project to be successful, alignment between stakeholders and teams is essential. It’s probably safe to say many of us have worked on projects where teams or stakeholders lack alignment. Without alignment, there’s no common ground. No cohesion. Teams work against each other versus with each other. It makes setting priorities and decision making a nightmare. 

For my current team, we make it a point to keep all stakeholders and teams involved at every stage of the project lifecycle. For example: When we began discussing ways to streamline the registration process for one of our marketplaces—we set up an ideation meeting with representatives from various teams (Product, Marketing, IT, Sales, PR / Communications) that played a major role in the process. During this meeting we outlined the current process, identified pain points for internal and external users, reviewed current metrics / analytics data, discussed trends / competitive analysis, and presented recommendations for the ideal process. Based on this information, we created journeys for the current process and for the ideal process. 

Before wrapping up the ideation meeting, we addressed any additional concerns and set expectations and deadlines for next steps. Additional meetings were scheduled later with specific team members / stakeholders to discuss requirements, technical feasibility, sprint planning, UX / UI needs, marketing needs, and content strategy. 

As wireframes and mock-ups are being developed, we hold stakeholder meetings (or reactor group meetings) to walkthrough our recommendations. This gives stakeholders the opportunity to review project deliverables in real-time, ensure they’re inline with goals, needs, and requirements, and provide feedback. It’s an effective and efficient way to get buy-in and maintain alignment between all project stakeholders and teams. 

Data-Informed and Data-Driven Design Solutions 

As UX professionals, we can testify to the importance of data-informed or data-driven design decisions. In combination with guiding principles and best practices, data (be it qualitative or quantitative) can justify your design solution—especially if it aims to improve metrics, conversions, user motivations, or user actions. One of our ongoing projects recently explored what elements influenced our users’ bidding / buying behavior on our marketplaces. 

For the longest time, we wondered what data points our users deemed to be most important when reviewing high-level information about items on our marketplaces. What fields do they want to see upfront? What fields should be reserved for the item detail page view? To test this, we conducted surveys and card sorting exercises where users had to rank the data points they felt were crucial to the bidding / buying experience. We used the results from this study to propose new card designs for the homepage and landing page that highlight the data points our users deemed most significant. The new designs will eventually be A/B tested against the current designs. Results pending, we’ll launch the design that has the greatest impact on the users’ bidding / buying experience. 

From Agile and UX to Continuous Product Design 

Alignment and collaboration between stakeholders and teams, and data-driven strategies and solutions has impacted our work tremendously. We have a much better chance to thrive when we’re collectively working towards the same goals versus in silos. Decisions aren’t solely based on emotions or unsupported claims, because we believe data is a valuable asset that should be shared throughout the organization. With current or new strategies, we’re able to gather learnings more quickly, iteratively build based upon these learnings, and deliver balanced, user-centered solutions.

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Admittedly, it’s been a journey. It’s not always an easy process. But it’s so much better than the alternative. Any methodology or approach that improves process, efficiency, expediency, and the quality and user experience of your solutions is worthwhile.  

Speaking of process improvement, there’s a methodology that takes the best of Agile and UX and enables companies to “build better products faster.” This methodology is called Continuous Product Design. I was introduced to this process after connecting with a colleague on LinkedIn in early April 2020. I was intrigued with its promise.

An extension of Agile principles, Continuous Product Design is an iterative, user-centered approach. It enables alignment between all stakeholders and teams, encourages research-driven and data-driven decision making, and improves productivity and efficiency. Companies like Netflix, Comcast, and Oracle have raved about Continuous Product Design and the impact it’s had on their organization and their customers. 

Finding the sweet spot between user needs and business goals is crucial. Alignment, collaboration, user-centered design, and data-driven decisions have helped our company do this and much more. For companies looking to further evolve their process, Continuous Product Design may be yet another viable option.

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